How can therapy help Tourette’s?

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Jul 5, 2023

Man walking with arms out in nature

Here we explain what Tourette’s Syndrome is and the type of therapy that can help

Thanks to Lewis Capaldi being open about his Tourette’s, more people are learning how it affects people. A widely misunderstood condition, Tourette’s is more than swearing and can have an impact on mental health.

What is Tourette’s?

Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes tics. Tics are repetitive and involuntary, and they can involve physical movements and vocalisations. Some common tics include eye-rolling, whistling and repeating phrases someone else said. Swearing can also be a tic, but it’s generally less common than we think.

Often Tourette’s is diagnosed in childhood, around the age of eight or nine. It can be genetic, running in families, and may be linked to other conditions like ADHD and OCD. There are over 300,000 people in the UK with Tourette’s, and with more celebrities opening up about it, it’s helping shine a light on its impact.

Tics are often made worse by stress, tiredness and anxiety. But, having more tics can be exhausting in itself and can lead to a somewhat vicious cycle. This is why for many people with Tourette’s, finding a way to manage stress and anxiety is key.

How can therapy help Tourette’s?

Not everyone with Tourette’s will need or want therapy, but those finding it impacting their life in a negative way may find it helpful. Therapy to help with stress, anxiety and any sleeping problems can be a good place to start if these are making things worse.

There are also specific therapies designed to help reduce tics. In the video below, psychotherapist, counsellor and behaviour therapist Kerrie Hipgrave discusses CBIT.

CBIT stands for comprehensive behavioural intervention for tics. It incorporates various different approaches, including habit reversal training and exposure with response prevention (ERP).

Helping both young people and adults, CBIT can help people become more aware of their tics and urges to tic. It can train them to do ‘competing’ behaviours when the urge to tic comes up and encourage lifestyle changes to help reduce tics. The therapy helps those with Tourette’s understand what factors can trigger tics, including their environment, making changes where possible.

Along with therapy, other approaches can support those with Tourette's. Medications may be offered for some, and recently the UK trialled electrical impulse treatment. Lewis Capaldi was one of the 121 people in the UK to trial this treatment, which involved wearing a device that electrically stimulates the median nerve. The results have been promising, but the device isn’t available to the public yet.

Thanks to the openness of people like Lewis, we’re beginning to understand the complex nature of Tourette’s, including what it actually is, how it impacts (and is impacted by) mental health and crucially, what can help.

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