Portland Anxiety Clinic

Tics and Tourette’s

Tics and Tourette’s refers to a disorder in which the individual has repetitive physical behaviors (i.e. eye-blinking, touching, or tapping) and vocal behaviors (i.e. clearing one’s throat). Tics are involuntary and occur “out of the blue.” Tics may stop for a while then may come back. Tics are typically first observed between the ages of three to eight and affect boys more often than girls. Unlike compulsions in OCD that are focused on relieving the anxiety of obsessions, tics are repeated so that they are done “just right.” Habit reversal is an effective treatment for Tics/Tourette’s.

Habit reversal training is a leading treatment method for treating tic disorders. In this treatment, clients first learn to become self-aware of triggers that lead to tics. As the client becomes better at identifying warning signs for tics, the client is better able to anticipate and respond to tics. The clients then learn to replace a compulsive behavior, such as twitching their head to the left, with a competing behavior, such as twitching the head to the right. Since the client cannot do both at the same time, the competing behavior of moving the head to the right breaks the cycle that maintains the compulsion over time. Over time, the habit is broken and the need to tilt the head to the right is no longer needed. The competing behavior of tilting the head to the right, which is not compulsive, can then be terminated because it is no longer needed.