Desmond Kaplan MD FAPA

Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry

1777 Reisterstown Road, Suite 50
 Baltimore, MD 21208

Habit Reversal Training

Habit reversal is a behavior-changing treatment used to reduce the frequency of repetitive behaviors such as tics and other nervous habits. This treatment teaches patients to become aware of their activities and learn how to control them. Tics are sudden, involuntary movements or sounds. They may be associated with Tourette's syndrome or other nervous disorders. Other behavioral disorders that may benefit from habit reversal training may include nail biting, thumb sucking, skin picking and hair pulling. While these behaviors are not usually dangerous, they may cause social fears, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Habit reversal is based on the belief that people with these behaviors are not aware of how often they occur. By monitoring their behavior, they will recognize the frequency and develop competing responses to perform instead. These responses use the same muscle as the original behavior, preventing it from being performed. These new responses are often not noticeable to others and can relieve social fears.

Habit reversal training is often initiated under the care of a therapist or mental-health professional and includes three components, that when combined, can be successful at changing certain behaviors. These components include:
  • Awareness training
  • Developing competing responses
  • Reward and motivation

The individual builds an awareness of the habit or behavior by identifying the action and any emotions or sensations that may precede it. He or she then chooses another more comfortable or acceptable action to take instead of the habit. They may also create a list of the problems that were caused by their behavior. In addition, support of family and friends can be an important part of habit reversal training as the praise received from others can add to the motivation for continuing.

Relaxation and anxiety management techniques may also be helpful during habit reversal therapy as heightened anxiety may lead to increased frequency, intensity and duration of unwanted behaviors.

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