Ronald van der Maesen, of the Netherlands, is a newcomer to the Journal’s pages. Here he presents the results of his research on using past-life therapy for people suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. Since Tourette’s has been thought to be a lifelong condition that usually has no cure, the results of van der Maesen’s study are exciting, both for past-life therapists and for the larger worlds of medicine and other psychotherapies.
Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome (GTS) is a condition in which the sufferer experiences sudden involuntary and uncontrollable motor and/or vocal tics. It usually begins in childhood and is considered to be a lifelong affliction. It is one of the most socially disabling conditions known, and cures are few and far between. The present study was designed to examine whether or not past-life therapy would help sufferers of GTS.
GTS was identified as a separate syndrome in 1885 by Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a neurologist and student of the French neurologist Charcot. Charcot was so impressed by de la Tourette’s description of the condition that he named the syndrome after him.
The primary symptoms of GTS are the involuntary tics that sufferers make. These are described below. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is also often associated with GTS. The present study focused upon the reduction of the clients’ motor and vocal tics rather than on the reduction of symptoms of OCD, but some clients found those symptoms also reduced. Another benefit that some clients spontaneously mentioned was that their sense of self-esteem and self-worth had risen considerably as their tics decreased, and for some that was the most important overall benefit from the study.
Distinctions are made between different forms of tics, as the listings below illustrate.
Motor tics include:
Single (such as involuntary blinking)
Multiple complex (such as combined hand and arm movements)
Echokinesis (imitation of the movements of others)
Copropraxia (making obscene gestures)
Vocal tics include:
Unarticulated (such as throat clearing, sniffing, hacking)
Echolalia (repetition of someone’s last words or sentence)
Coprolalia (uttering of obscene language). This is probably the most striking and socially dramatic symptom of GTS; it occurs among approximately 30% of GTS patients (Van de Wetering et al., 1992).
The DSM-IV says of GTS:
Tics can occur from the age of two;
the average age for the onset of motor tics is seven years;
the duration of the syndrome is usually lifelong;
the prevalence is estimated at 4 to 5 persons per 10,000;
GTS occurs 1 1/2 to 3 times as often in males as in females.
Frequently associated symptoms include poor concentration, hyperactivity, learning disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
De la Tourette regarded the disorder as an organic, and partly hereditary, illness. Psychoanalysts, according to Shapiro et al. (1988), thought of the tics as a symbolic expression of an underlying intrapsychic conflict. Sacks (1985) notes that GTS is characterized by an excess of nervous energy, tics, compulsive actions, and a strange devilish sense of humor.
According to Evers and Van de Wetering (1994), the current treatment of GTS tics is either pharmaceutical or by means of behavioral treatment. Medications are usually given, but relaxation procedures have been successful in reducing tics for short periods (Azrin and Peterson, 1988). As far as is known, past-life therapy had never been examined as a therapy for GTS tics before this study.
Originally, 21 clients entered the study; attrition and other factors reduced the total number who completed all past-life sessions to 11. These were 4 men, 1 woman, and 6 boys of 9-14. At the beginning of the study, the severity of their symptoms was assessed on a scale ranging from “very mild” to “very serious.” They were treated by 10 experienced past-life therapists, all members of the Dutch Association of Past-Life Therapy (NVRT). The methods used were those taught at the Dutch School for Reincarnation Therapy (SRN) and included the “Holographic Model,” as described by Bontenbal (1995). The number of sessions varied between 6 and 22, with an average of 11.9. Length of sessions varied from 1 to 3 hours, with an average of 2 hours.
Shortly after termination of the study all clients were contacted for results; then one year later a follow-up questionnaire (below) was sent to them to assess the long-term results of the past-life therapy used. Ten participants responded. The questionnaire asked specific as well as open-ended questions, and participants were encouraged to express their thoughts about the past-life therapy they had received. Those with tic reduction were then contacted by telephone for more information. The questionnaire follows; then the participants’ responses at this one-year follow-up.
- The motor tics I had before I started past-life therapy were–completely disappeared
not/or hardly reduced increased
- Question #2 and its possible responses were the same as Question #1, but with reference to vocal tics instead of motor tics.
- Apart from working on my tics, past-life therapy to me–
had no other significance
led to reduction of other symptoms, namely:
led to an increase of other symptoms and/or new/other problems or symptoms, namely:
- Would you advise past-life therapy for the treatment of Tourette’s Syndrome?
- This question inquired whether the participant had continued therapy, past life or other, in the year between the study and the follow-up questionnaire.
- Have you had any changes in medication since finishing past-life therapy?
I did not use any medication for the Tourette’s Syndrome
my use of medication has increased since then
my use of medication has decreased since then
contrary to previous times I am currently free of medication
- The participants were requested to give their judgment about the quality of their past-life therapy, with grades ranging from 0 to 10. They were also asked to express in their own words any other thoughts they might have about the experience.
Results are given in the form of short vignettes, as they best capture the responses of the clients.
Client 1: A boy of 9, who at the age of 4 developed motor tics of the head, face, eyelids, and shoulders; on some days 10 times an hour, on some days less. From the age of 6 he had suffered from non-verbal vocal tics: Compulsive hacking, throat clearing, and burping. He also had the automutilative behavior of striking his head. At intake, the severity of his Tourette’s symptoms was assessed as “moderate.” He had tried prescribed medication, but his parents had stopped it because of the side effect of extreme passivity. He had then taken Bach flower remedies until the time of the study.
After six sessions of about 60 minutes each and of consultation with his parents his past-life therapy was terminated. At the follow-up, both motor and vocal tics have largely disappeared (respectively 95% and 99%) and according to his mother, therapy has given an added benefit: “My son is much better at controlling his angry moods, as well as his fears and compulsive acts.” She can recommend past-life therapy because “I find my child much improved.” She graded the quality of therapy as 10 out of 10 and said “I hope that the Association for Gilles de Tourette’s patients will finally pay attention to this kind of therapy.”
Client 2: A boy of 9, whose motor tics began at the age of 4. They included tics in his face, arms, and legs, and included kicking. In his fifth year he began to have vocal tics: Throat clearing and small yells. He suffered from coprolalia as well, characterized by swear words and obscenities. He also had automutilative behaviors, especially head-banging against the wall and punching his body. All of these occurred “many times a day” or “very often.” The severity of his symptoms was graded as between “serious” and “very serious.” He was taking medication at the time of the study but had problems with side effects such as gaining weight and sleepiness.
After 9 sessions of approximately 1 1/2 hours each his tics have “hardly decreased” and use of his medication has increased. The past-life therapy apparently had no benefit to this client. Yet his father can recommend the therapy because “we think it can be advantageous if one had insight into the syndrome.” The quality of the therapy is graded as an 8 out of 10, with the addition: “Our son suffered enormous concentration problems, therefore it was very difficult to apply therapy in spite of great efforts by the therapist.” So the quality rating in this case may reflect appreciation of the effort made by the therapist more than of the therapy itself.
Client 3: A boy of 9, who has suffered from motor and vocal tics from the age of 3 in a frequency which is described as “very fluctuating and irregular.” The motor tics occur in hands and arms, the vocal tics are making squeaky sounds and hacking. Coprolalia is also present; most frequent is an excretory obscenity. There is no automutilative behavior. The client receives homeopathic remedies and has no side effects from them. At intake, his symptoms were classified as “serious” to “very serious.”
After 12 sessions of about 1 hour each, therapy was temporarily broken off. There is little symptom reduction. The father supposes his son “was probably too young” for this form of therapy, but he can recommend it because “it gives you more insight into yourself.” He graded the therapy as 6 out of 10.
Client 4: A boy of 13, who suffered from motor and vocal tics for eight years with a frequency of 10 to 15 times an hour. His motor tics affected his head, face, eyelids, and left shoulder and arm. His vocal tics were hacking, squeaking, barking, and echolalia. Also, automutilative behavior occurred: punching of his body. His mother restricted the use of medication because of serious side effects. His symptoms were assessed at intake as “serious” and “very serious.”
After 22 sessions of approximately 2 hours each both motor and vocal tics have largely disappeared (reduction 80%). There is no longer a need for medication. The client’s mother mentioned “reduction of other symptoms, as auto mutilation, pulling out of eyelashes, etc.” as an additional benefit. She graded the therapy at 9 out of 10. She notes that “under stress it reoccurs, but he knows then how to stop it.”
Client 5: A boy of 14, who has suffered from motor tics in his head and eyelids from the age of 5, averaging 30 times an hour. From the age of 6 he has also suffered from vocal tics (20 times per hour) such as throat clearing and coprolalia (slang sexual terms). Due to a side effect of apathy, he was not given any medication. His symptoms were assessed at intake as between “moderate” and “serious.”
After 8 sessions of about 2 1/2 hours there is a slight reduction of 20% for motor tics and 40% for vocal tics. He now receives medication for compulsive symptoms. Past-life therapy is recommended because “unconscious blockages can be exposed.” His therapy is graded as 7 out of 10.
Client 6: A young man of 24, a university student. At between 4 and 5 years of age he began to suffer from motor tics over his entire body, which occurred between 70 to 100 times per hour, and vocal tics (hacking and throat clearing) at the same frequency. He had no coprolalia and no automutilative behavior. He took medication, which led to the side effect of tiredness. His symptoms were assessed at intake as “serious.”
After 10 sessions of about 2 1/2 hours his tics have largely disappeared, with a reduction of 60% to 70% for both types of tics. He said that the most positive improvement has been an increased sense of self-esteem and self-trust. These improvements enabled him to finish university and to find suitable work “in an absolutely positive manner.” He is now free of medication, and recommends past-life therapy because “you get to know yourself much better.” He graded his therapy 8 out of 10.
Client 7: A man of 31, who suffered from the age of 12 from motor tics in his entire body about 500 times a day and from the vocal tics of squeaking, hacking, and nose-shifting about 10 times a day. He also had coprolalia (an English swear word) and automutilative behavior such as head-banging and striking his face, and was very aggressive. He used medication but limited its use because of side effects. His symptoms were assessed at intake as “very serious.”
The client’s reason for entering the study at all was his uncontrolled aggressiveness, which frightened himself and others. After 13 sessions of about 1 1/2 hours he has found his tics little diminished, and there has been no change in levels of medication: However, his aggression has been considerably reduced; he said “for me the right result was the outcome, namely reducing aggression, thus I am satisfied.” He recommends the therapy because of these results and grades the quality of his therapy as 8 out of 10.
Client 8: A woman of 52, who developed GTS only 5 years ago. (This is unusual: According to the DSM-IV, one of the diagnostic criteria is that the symptoms develop before the age of 18. This client met all their other criteria.) She had motor tics “often,” in face, arms, and legs, and vocal tics “often,” such as crowing and coprolalia with swear words and obscenities. She had no automutilative behavior. She used several medicines but had several unpleasant side effects. Her symptoms were assessed at intake as “moderate” to “serious.”
After 15 sessions of approximately 2 1/2 hours she reports being largely relieved of her tics (95% for motor tics, 90% for vocal tics). She no longer uses medication. An additional benefit is “having learned to stand up for myself much better…I can now lead a normal life: Peace has set in.” The quality of the therapy is graded as 10 out of 10 and she adds: “I am greatly indebted to this research project. I feel reborn. Due to medication I was overweight. I have lost 25 kilos. I have a wonderful job. Thanks very much.”
Client 9: A man of 43, who has suffered since the age of 8 from motor tics in his arms several times an hour and from various vocal tics including coprolalia (swearing) several times a day. He had no automutilative behavior. He took no medication and his symptoms were assessed at intake as “moderate.” He is the father of Client 3 above.
After 11 sessions of about 3 hours he reports reductions of 25% for motor tics and 80% for vocal tics. He recommends the therapy, grading the quality as 7 out of 10. He said “I have greatly benefitted from it, as well as gaining insight” and adds “according to me Tourette patients ought to be informed about past-life therapy; I continue to emphasize this in the Association.”
Client 10: A man of 45, who has suffered from motor tics and coprolalia since 15. His motor tics had slightly decreased over the years and at the start of the study occurred several times a day in his arms, hands, and jaw. His coprolalia also occurred several times a day and consisted of a German swear word. He had the automutilative behavior of punching against walls and doors. He used medication but disliked the side effect of gaining weight. His symptoms were assessed at intake as “moderate” to “serious.”
After 13 sessions of about 2 1/2 hours his motor tics have “largely disappeared” (reduction of 80%) and his coprolalia is “slightly reduced” (about 25%). He is free of medication. He recommends past-life therapy because “it is one of the few good handles to treat this syndrome,” grading it as 7 out of 10. He adds: “once again thank you so much for drawing my attention to this method.”
Discussion of Results
The results above are drawn from the one-year follow-up questionnaires and interviews of the 10 participants who responded. Comparing the results above with those previously gathered at a follow-up shortly after the study was concluded, shows that there was very little change in results over the year.
Shortly after the study was concluded, five clients reported a considerable reduction of their motor tics (ranging from 60% to 100%). Four of them remained consistent after a year, although 100% reduction was no longer reported as it had been at first; the fifth fell back from 60% to 25%. On the other hand, one client made progress in motor tic reduction from 35% shortly after the study to 60% at the one-year follow-up. The same picture applies to vocal tics: five clients reported a considerable reduction, although as with motor tics, 100% reduction was reported by one client shortly after the study but this had dropped back somewhat a year later. The average grade for the quality of the past-life therapy was 9 out of 10 shortly after the study, 8 out of 10 after one year.
In literature concerning treatment of GTS patients with regular intervention methods, reports of positive results are scarce. That is not surprising, as the current view is that GTS is usually a lifelong condition (APA, 1994) or an often lifelong neuropsychiatric disorder (Chase et al., 1992).
The alternative therapeutic approach of past-life therapy offers some very hopeful possibilities, as demonstrated by the results above. Of the ten who responded to the one-year follow-up questionnaire, 5 reported that their motor tics had for the most part largely disappeared or been greatly reduced in frequency. The same also applies to their vocal tics. Five also reported that they were free of medication, in sharp contrast to the pre-study period. For two clients, the therapy was of little consequence as far as reducing motor or vocal tics were concerned. And one client used more medication (for compulsive behavior) than before the study.
The question of “whether” a therapy works is closely related to the question of “how” it works. In other words: What are the healing factors? Process-research in a relatively new and untested type of psychotherapy is necessary when positive results are found. Although in this study the effects of past-life therapy on a small group of GTS sufferers were examined and found to be measurable, the therapeutic process itself was not examined. After the conclusion of the research, however, the experiences of the therapists involved were evaluated, formulated, and elaborated upon in order to begin to present past-life therapists with some guidance for future treatment of people who suffer from this serious condition.
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