Can Self-Hypnosis Help Tourette Patients Control Tics?

Small study finds benefit for young people, but another expert says the research is too preliminary

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TUESDAY, July 13, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Children and young adults with Tourette syndrome can gain control over their involuntary tics through self-hypnosis, a small new study suggests.

But a specialist in the condition said the research is too preliminary to indicate whether the strategy actually works.

In the study, reported in the July/August issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers used a video to teach 33 people aged 6 to 19 how to relax through self-hypnosis. The participants all had the tics caused by Tourette syndrome.

"Once the patient is in his or her highly focused 'special place,' work is then done on controlling the tic. We ask the patient to imagine the feeling right before that tic occurs and to put up a stop sign in front of it, or to imagine a tic switch that can be turned on and off like a light switch," study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Lazarus, formerly of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and now in private practice, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Of the participants, 26 (79 percent) experienced what the researchers called a dramatic increase in their ability to control their tics after two to four sessions.

In an interview, Tourette specialist and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee psychology professor Douglas W. Woods said other factors besides the hypnosis training could explain the improvement in the patients. In many cases, tics go away on their own, he said.

Other strategies besides the "wait and see" approach include medications and therapy designed to teach patients how to control their tics, Woods said. He co-authored a recent study that showed the value of that technique, known as comprehensive behavioral intervention for tics.

"Maybe hypnosis could be shown to be effective in treating tics down the road, but I don't think this study does that," Woods stated.

More information

For more on Tourette syndrome, try the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

SOURCES: Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, news release, July 12, 2010; Douglas W. Woods, Ph.D., psychology professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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