A new study of patients in Texas and across the country suffering from Tourette syndrome found that a 10-week course of intensive behavioral therapy eased the telltale involuntary jerks and verbal outbursts of the disorder for many patients.
It’s the latest and largest study showing the benefits of behavioral treatment from a team of scientists in San Antonio and at five other sites nationwide, who reported two years ago it produced even better results in children.
They say an effective treatment is needed because as many as two-thirds of patients prescribed drugs to control their Tourette symptoms stop taking them, complaining of sleepiness, impaired thinking and weight gain.
The treatment, known as comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics, or CBIT, is still underused in the United States – although professional guidelines in Europe and Canada now recommend trying it first before drugs, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to increase awareness of it.
It involves training patients to recognize the early signs of tics, and countering them with relaxation techniques or substitute responses – such as slowed breathing to avoid blurting out words, or changing the position of an arm that shoots out during an episode.
“It’s not a cure, but it’s another tool to use to give these children empowerment, to say ‘I can control this,’ ” said Wendy Marcus-Perez, who heads a Tourette support group and has seen the therapy benefit children, including her 15-year-old son.
‘It sounds too simple’
Alan Peterson, a San Antonio psychologist who helped develop the treatment and is a co-author of the study, said CBIT has long been met with some skepticism in this country despite growing evidence of its effectiveness.
“It sounds too simple,” said Peterson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center. “People have thought these are involuntary tics. How can you force somebody not to have a tic? Isn’t that going to be stressful? Isn’t that going to make them go crazy? Over the years, we’ve systematically debunked all of those myths.”
Peterson is traveling across the country training mental health professionals in the method, in seminars funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Tourette Syndrome Association.