Brain-based therapies for Tourette Syndrome

Managing Tourette's Syndrome featured image

With the right support, people with Tourette Syndrome can lead fulfilling lives – just ask Billie Eilish, Dan Ackroyd and Seth Rogan.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome is a tic disorder – a problem with the nervous system. Tics are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people repeatedly do and which are hard to control.

Tourette Syndrome often begins between the ages of 2 and 21. Though it lasts throughout life, it is not degenerative (worsening).

What are the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome?

Tics – rapid, repetitive muscle movements and vocalisations – are the key symptom of Tourette Syndrome.

There are many different types of tics but two key types are motor and vocal.

Motor Vocal
  • Blinking eyes
  • Jerking the head
  • Shrugging shoulders
  • Grimacing
  • Twitching nose
  • Clearing the throat
  • Making barking noises
  • Squealing
  • Grunting or gulping
  • Sniffing
  • Clicking the tongue 
  • Jumping or twirling about
  • Touching other people
  • Touching things
  • Moving the limbs or torso
  • Pulling at clothes
  • Injuring themselves
  • Biting themselves 
  • Repetitive words or phrases
  • Using inappropriate or obscene words (coprolalia)
  • Repeating something someone else just said (echoalia)
  • Repeating own words, phrases or sentences, often several times  (palilalia) 


Tics may feel like a build-up of tension that eventually has to be released by performing the tic.

Someone with a milder form of Tourette Syndrome may have only a few symptoms, confined to their face, eyes and shoulders. Someone with a more severe form of the condition may find that it affects many areas of their body.

Can people control tics or not?

Sort of.

Tics are often described as ‘involuntary’. Tics are certainly unwanted movements or vocalisations but some people learn how to exert some control over their symptoms.
That comes at a cost, though. It takes a great deal of energy and concentration to hold back a tic, even for a few minutes to avoid embarrassment in a social or professional situation.

And that effort only delays the tic; it does not prevent it. Eventually, the tic has to be expressed, often in a more severe or explosive form.

Does anything ease or worsen tics?

As with many conditions, tics are often worse when there’s a lot of stress or tension. They may happen less frequently when the person is relaxed or absorbed in a task.
Tourette Syndrome often follows a waxing and waning pattern. There may be 3-4 months of relative ease followed by 3-4 months of more intense symptoms.

What causes Tourette Syndrome?

Researchers haven’t yet identified the exact cause of Tourette Syndrome. Current research suggests that it may be the result of multiple genes interacting with other factors in the person’s environment, such as:

  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Low birth weight
  • Infection.

What other conditions are associated with Tourette Syndrome?

Most people with Tourette Syndrome also have other conditions such as:

They may experience a range of behavioural problems and difficulties including:

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Poor school performance
  • Social isolation
  • School refusal
  • Oppositional/defiant behaviour
  • Aggressive and uncooperative behaviour.

How is Tourette Syndrome diagnosed?

There is no definitive test for Tourette Syndrome. A diagnosis is made by taking a medical history, observing symptoms and ruling out other conditions using scans or blood tests.

Can Tourette Syndrome be cured?

No, not yet. However, therapy and medication can help to control some symptoms in some cases.

If tics do not affect the person’s self-esteem or daily life, then there may be no need for treatment. If tics are causing distress or disruption then doctors may recommend medication and/or therapy.

Therapies for Tourette Syndrome

Behavioural therapies can sometimes help people with Tourette Syndrome to reduce the impact or severity of tics.

Habit reversal
Habit reversal involves:

  • Awareness training – identifying each tic aloud
  • Competing response training – seeking to replace the tic with a new behaviour that leaves no room for the tic, such as crossing their arms so they cannot rub their head at the same time.

Comprehensive behavioural intervention for tics (CBIT)
CBIT includes habit reversal alongside other strategies such as patient/family education and relaxation techniques.

CBIT involves understanding the:

  • Types of tics experienced
  • Situations in which tics are experienced.

With that knowledge, you may be able to adjust the situation or replace one behaviour with another (habit reversal).

Therapy in practice
Let’s say Jenny is in her final year of primary school. She’s a good student but she finds maths hard – maybe that’s why her tics are more obvious during maths class. She’s constantly pulling at her clothes and then feels that the other students are staring at her.

As part of her therapy, her maths teacher moves Jenny to the back of the classroom, meaning most of the other children can’t see her. With help from her therapist, Jenny also learns to sit on her hands instead of pulling at her clothes.

How can Neurofit Brain Centre help?

As noted above Tourette Syndrome often co-exists with other conditions such as ADHD, OCD or sensory processing disorder.

Research indicates that poor connections within or between different brain regions may contribute to these conditions. We’re still learning exactly how this works in the case of Tourette’s but it may be that people with Tourette Syndrome have increased connectivity in some areas of the brain and decreased connectivity in others.

At Neurofit Brain Center, we believe that brain activity makes an active difference. Our program stimulates the brain in certain ways to strengthen both function and connection with the aim of easing the symptoms of many common brain-based conditions.

Please book an assessment today.

All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Neurofit Brain Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment approach is right for you.

Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia, What is Tourette Syndrome?, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
Tourette Syndrome Association of Australia, FAQs, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
, Risk factors for Tourette Syndrome,, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What is Tourette Syndrome?, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tourette Syndrome treatments,, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
University of Cambridge, Learning difficulties due to poor connectivity, not specific brain regions, study shows,, [Accessed 7 December 2023]
Fan Siyan, van den Heuvel Odile A., Cath Danielle C., de Wit Stella J., Vriend Chris, Veltman Dick J., van der Werf Ysbrand D., Altered functional connectivity in resting state networks in Tourette’s disorder, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol 12, 2018,, [Accessed 7 December 2023]