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Self-Hypnosis Helps Children, Teens with Tourette Syndrome


Children and teens who have Tourette syndrome may improve their quality of life through self-hypnosis. A new study found that the children had significant improvement in tics after just a few sessions of self-hypnosis taught with the assistance of videotape training.

Tourette syndrome (Gilles de la Tourette syndrome) is a neurological disorder that appears before individuals reach their eighteenth birthday. It is characterized by frequent, repetitive, and rapid involuntary movements (tics) involving the face, arms, limbs, or trunk. These tics may be accompanied by verbal tics, such as grunting, shouting, barking, and throat clearing.

Symptoms can range from very mild to severe, with most cases falling into the mild category. Associated conditions include attention problems (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), obsessional compulsive behavior, and learning disabilities. Males are affected three to four times more often than females.

The self-hypnosis research was carried out by Jeffrey Lazarus, MD, and Susan K. Klein, MD, PhD, who were with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine when the study was conducted. A total of 33 children and teens ages 6 to 19 years participated. All of the young people had motor tics and three had verbal tics when they entered the study.

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The subjects viewed video clips of a young boy with Tourette syndrome before, during, and after he has participated in self-hypnosis training. After the viewing, the children and teens were taught self-hypnosis in individual training sessions. All the participants were instructed to practice self-hypnosis three times daily and to answer questions designed to raise their awareness of tics and their experiences with them.

Nearly all of the participants experienced a dramatic increase in tic control after only a few training sessions: 12 after two sessions, 13 after three, and one after four visits. Overall, 79 percent of the children and teens improved enough that they were satisfied with self-hypnosis. This is a significant finding, as the medications used to treat tics, including clonidine and neuroleptics such as haloperidol and pimozide, can cause undesirable side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, impaired thinking, insomnia, and blurred vision.

Lazarus noted that with self-hypnosis, “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.” Patients are also given additional suggestions and encouraged to create their own images.

The use of videotapes helps standardize the training, makes the technique easily accessible to younger children, and may shorten the time necessary to teach self-hypnosis. Lazarus pointed out that while the use of self-hypnosis for Tourette syndrome needs to be studied further, this study illustrated that it gives young people “hope and the motivation that they are not the only ones in the world with this problem.”

Tourette Syndrome Association
University Hospitals Case Medical Center