Avatar Therapy: A New Battle for the Tree of Life
In the film Avatar, scientists are keen to exploit the moon planet Pandora which is inhabited by 10-foot-tall blue humanoids called Na’vi. To do so they create Na’vi human hybrids called “Avatars” which are controlled from afar by genetically matched humans. When the scientists decide to destroy the eco-system of the planet to gain access to valuable minerals, war breaks out between the humans and the Na’vi. At this point the main character, Jake, who operates an Avatar, has to choose whose side he is on. Eventually Jake’s life is saved and transformed by the Tree of Souls, which the humans are trying to destroy.
Why are Avatars in the news again? The latest innovation from psychiatric research is using computer-generated avatars to help people who hear aggressive voices. With headlines like ‘Avatars help to silence schizophrenic voices’ it’s caught the media’s attention worldwide. It’s a bit of a publicity coup for the researchers as stories on treatment for schizophrenia usually don’t take up much copy. But this story has the feel of a science fiction movie. For a start it’s got a scientist, Prof Julian Leff leading it, who has definitely got the ‘Back to the future’ wild white hair look. But what takes centre stage in the press articles are computer-generated images of voices, looking a little on the sinister side. Let’s hope the real scientists don’t make the same mistake as they do in the Avatar film and – instead of just trying to get rid of the voices – listen to a bit of local knowledge. Who knows? If therapists pretend to be aggressive voices that mellow when stood up to maybe, as in the film, they will become more sympathetic to beings they don’t understand.