tic disorder treatment

Tic disorders can be distressing and disruptive conditions characterized by rapid, recurrent, nonrhythmic motor movements and vocalizations known as tics. These conditions typically emerge during childhood and can have a significant impact on various aspects of a person’s life. A recent review summarised the treatment options, and found that psychological interventions, rather than medication, might work well for people with the condition.

Types of Tic Disorders

There are three primary types of tic disorders:

  1. Provisional Tic Disorder: This involves single or multiple motor and/or vocal tics that have been present for less than one year.
  2. Persistent (Chronic) Tic Disorder (CTD): CTD includes either motor or vocal tics, but not both, that persist for more than one year.
  3. Tourette’s Disorder: TD includes both motor and vocal tics that have been present for at least one year, with onset typically occurring before 18 years of age.

Prevalence and Characteristics

Provisional and chronic tic disorders affect approximately 3% and 1% of the population, respectively, with a higher prevalence in males. While it’s commonly believed that provisional tics often remit spontaneously, research shows that complete remission is rare. Tics usually begin between the ages of 4 and 8, vary in type and intensity over time, and often peak in severity during adolescence. However, many individuals experience a substantial reduction in tic severity by early adulthood.

Premonitory Urges

People with tic disorders often experience aversive premonitory urges, which are described as inner tension, pressure, itch, or discomfort in the muscles involved in the tic or as a general feeling that something is not right in the body. These urges tend to increase when tics are suppressed and are temporarily relieved when the tic is performed. Understanding these urges is crucial for effective treatment.

Impact on Quality of Life

Tic disorders can have far-reaching effects, including physical, social, educational, and occupational challenges. Individuals with tics may also experience a reduced quality of life. Additionally, tic disorders frequently co-occur with other conditions, such as ADHD and OCD, which can further complicate the overall picture.

Treatment Options

Traditionally, medication has been used to manage tics, including alpha-2 adrenergic agonists and antipsychotics. However, behavioural interventions have gained prominence as first-line treatments for tic management. These behavioural interventions are based on a behavioural model and have shown significant efficacy.

Behavioural approaches are highly effective in managing tic disorders, offering individuals a set of skills-based techniques to modify factors that influence and maintain tics. The most impactful interventions are Habit Reversal Training, Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics, and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

  1. Habit Reversal Training:
  • Components: Habit Reversal Training consists of several key components, including self-monitoring, awareness training, competing response practice, motivational procedures, and generalization training.
  • Awareness Training: Patients learn to become more aware of instances of their tics through techniques such as response description, response detection, and early warning training.
  • Competing Response: Patients engage in behaviours that are physically incompatible with the tic. For instance, if the tic involves neck jerking, they might gently tense their neck with their chin pointed down.
  • Support Person: An appropriate support person, such as a parent or spouse, is involved to prompt and reinforce the use of competing responses outside of therapy sessions.
  1. Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics:
  • Supplementing Habit Reversal Training: Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics builds upon Habit Reversal Training by including psychoeducation, function-based assessment and intervention, relaxation training, and strategies to enhance treatment compliance.
  • Function-based Assessment and Intervention: This component identifies and modifies internal and external factors that worsen tics. Strategies may involve eliminating tic-exacerbating antecedents and removing tic-contingent consequences.
  1. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP):
  • Adapted Exposure and Response Prevention: Exposure and Response Prevention is adapted for tic disorders and focuses on habituation to premonitory urges.
  • Session Structure: Exposure and Response Prevention typically consists of twelve 2-hour sessions. The initial sessions emphasize response prevention, where patients work on suppressing their tics.
  • Exposure Exercises: Patients are exposed to premonitory urges while suppressing tics, with therapists encouraging tic suppression, challenging patients to battle against the urges, and reminding them of the benefits of tic suppression.
  • Practice Outside Sessions: Patients are encouraged to practice tic suppression in their everyday lives.

Behavioural approaches offer individuals with tic disorders effective strategies to manage their condition. Whether through Habit Reversal Training, Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics, or Exposure and Response Prevention, these therapies aim to increase awareness of tics, develop coping mechanisms, and modify factors that contribute to tic exacerbation. If you or someone you know is dealing with tic disorders, consider seeking professional help from a psychologist to improve your quality of life.

Please note that this blog post by Personal Psychology is not intended to provide professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, it is important to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.