Online therapy is effective in treating Tourette’s syndrome and chronic tics 

Online therapy is effective in treating Tourette’s syndrome and chronic tics

Online behavioural therapy is an effective and safe way to treat children with Tourette’s syndrome or chronic tic disorder, according to new research.  

The Online Remote Behavioural Intervention for Tics (ORBIT) trial was funded by the NIHR and led by researchers from the University of Nottingham. The study assessed online therapy programmes for nine to 17-year-olds with Tourette’s syndrome or chronic tic disorder. Tourette’s syndrome affects around 70,000 children and young people in England and is the condition most commonly associated condition with chronic tics.  

Access to Tourette’s syndrome treatment is poor

Tic disorders can cause distress in a child’s school and social life. Despite these issues, fewer than one in five people living with Tourette’s syndrome have access to behavioural therapy.  

Participants tested one of two different online behavioural treatments. Both programmes were completed over ten weeks and featured several different exercises.  

The first programme tested was Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This course allowed patients to learn how their tics happened and encouraged them to resist their tics for as long as possible. Through practice, this method increased the time between patients’ tics. 

The second treatment option taught participants about their tics but did not provide any information on how to control them. These participants were supported throughout the process by an online therapist and their parents or carer. 

Online treatment is cheap and accessible  

The researchers found that ERP treatment had several benefits, including reduced scores for low mood and anxiety. ERP treatment was cost-effective and easy for children and young people to access, regardless of where they lived. 

“These findings are exciting. They are the first to show the long-term benefits of online delivered therapy for tics. We hear a lot from clinicians who want to be able to offer tic therapy but don’t have the skills, money, or resources to offer it. Likewise, we know families who are desperate to access therapy,” said Dr Charlotte Hall, a principal research fellow at the University of Nottingham and manager of the ORBIT trial.  

“I’ve heard from parents who talk of holding their child in their arms in tears, unable to stop motor tics that are so repetitive they become physically painful. Adults describe muscle spasms as so intense and so uncontrollable that they are in extreme pain and yet are unable to stop the tics. The results from this trial are very promising, enabling individuals to access evidence-based treatment to help them better manage and control their tics online,” added Emma McNally, CEO of the charity Tourette’s Action. 

“This will be extremely beneficial to individuals who currently have no services local to them. It could potentially improve the lives of so many people,” she concluded.  

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