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Using Psychotherapy to Calm Tourette Syndrome

Of all the challenges that come along with Tourette Syndrome, one of the most difficult is that tics seem unpredictable. It’s hard to know how to manage them when the type, frequency, and severity of your child’s tics can suddenly change.

But psychotherapy (talk therapy) can help. At THINK Neurology for Kids, we use a specific type of psychotherapy to give children and teens the skills they need to control their tic. For many kids, this approach is just as effective as medication. Here’s more information about how it works.

Psychotherapy can help a neurological disorder

Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder that develops when certain areas in the brain don’t communicate the way they should. Are you wondering how psychotherapy (talk therapy) can help with a problem that’s grounded in neurochemical imbalances?

While it’s true that therapy doesn’t cure or eliminate your child’s tics, it can teach you and your child new skills for managing tics. 

Tourette Syndrome has its cognitive behavioral therapy called comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics (CBIT). Here’s how CBIT boosts your child’s confidence by giving them control over their tics.

How CBIT works

CBIT focuses on three key steps, gaining awareness, learning competing behaviors, and functional intervention to control triggers.

Gaining awareness

Before a tic starts, it causes something called a premonitory urge or, as it’s often referred to, an urge to tic. This urge is a distinct feeling or sensation your child experiences just before their tic begins.

We can teach most children to recognize and be aware of the urge to tic. Once your child knows how to detect urges, they’re ready to learn a competing response.

Learning a competing behavior

During this part of CBIT, called habit reversal training, your child learns to perform a competing behavior.

Your child may struggle on their own to stop their tics. Some succeed for a short time, but this type of suppression only causes more stress. Your child can’t keep it up indefinitely, and when the tic finally breaks out, it’s often more severe. 

Instead of suppressing, CBIT teaches them to do something in a calm, focused manner that’s physically incompatible with their tic.

For example, if they have a motor tic like tapping or clapping, they may learn to clench their hand into a fist. Or, if their tic involves tilting their head to the left, we may teach them to move their head in a different direction purposefully. 

When they perform an alternative behavior, it overrides the tic. Their body can’t do both actions simultaneously, so they can funnel the urge into a different, less noticeable behavior until the tic stops.

Learning a competing behavior takes some practice. But before long, it becomes a habit that they naturally use every time they identify the urge to tic.

Intervening to control triggers

Tics are often triggered by things like anxiety, excitement, stress, fatigue, and anger. Physical challenges like allergies or an illness can also increase tic activity. This part of CBIT is designed to help you and your child manage their internal and external environment to reduce their triggers. 

We help you identify the triggers and the circumstances that make tics worse. Then we work with you to define changes you can make or teach you behavioral strategies to overcome the triggers. 

Anxiety is just one example. If anxiety is a trigger, we may teach you and your child about relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

If your child needs help with Tourette Syndrome, don’t wait to call THINK Neurology for Kids or book an appointment online to learn how psychotherapy can help.

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