Tics, which are characterized by sudden, repetitive, non-rhythmic body movements and/or vocalizations associated with tic disorders and Tourette’s syndrome, are involuntary movements that may involve the hands, shoulder shrugging, eye blinking, etc. In many cases, these tics do not get in the way of living a relatively normal life and consequently little if any treatment is required. At the other end of the spectrum, the tics may be so severe that they require treatment with medication and behavioral therapy, especially if they are causing pain/injury, are interfering with a normal daily routine in one’s education, job performance, or social life, or are responsible for inducing excessive stress. Prior to the treatment of the presenting tics, the presence of other movement-related disorders like chorea, dystonia, as well as the movements displayed by those with autism (stereotypic movement disorder), or those movements manifested as compulsions of OCD or seizure-related activity, must be ruled out to ensure the patient receives the proper care and treatment that is best suited to address his or her needs.
There are various methods for treating the tics that are so often associated with Tourette’s syndrome, including medication, behavioral therapies, and habit reversal. While medication is most often the go-to panacea for controlling tics, the medications themselves may carry side effects that are as bad, or even worse, than the condition that they may be used to treat. Behavioral therapies can also be effective as well by teaching those with Tourette’s to manage their tics. While these can be effective in reducing the number, severity, and impact of the tic behaviors, it is important to realize that behavioral therapy is not a cure, and that although effective it does not mean that tics are merely psychological in their nature. While these treatment methods are effective in aiding the treatment of, and helping to manage, the tic symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, it is important to note that they are varied in their efficacy, are not one-size-fits-all in their nature, and in the case of medication, may produce unwanted side effects ranging from mild to debilitating in and of themselves.
One of the most promising methods recently developed for the treatment of tics associated with Tourette’s is the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics, or CBIT. This new, evidence-based therapy includes the use of education, teaching relaxation techniques, and habit reversal in a combination that is shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of tics and their related impairments, and seems to work equally well for both children and adults. CBIT involves those with Tourette’s working with a therapist to gain a greater understanding of their particular type of tic and learning to recognize situations that worsen tic symptoms. When possible, a change in environment may be initiated, and using habit reversal, a new behavior is modeled so that when the urge to tic occurs, the new behavior is substituted. This method helps to lessen tic occurrences through substituting the new behavior for the tic through repetition, under the guidance of an experienced therapist.
Over the last few years, the number of health professionals that have come to know and appreciate the benefits and effectiveness of CBIT has increased; however, there are still relatively few therapists that have the specific training in these methods of treatment targeted specifically at tic disorders and Tourette’s, and work is currently being done by The Tourette Association of America and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide education for more health professionals with the training necessary to incorporate and apply this method in their treatment approach to managing the symptoms of Tourette’s and other tic disorders.
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