Is your child struggling with compulsive behaviors, tics or habits he or she can’t seem to kick?

Do they pull their hair or eye-lashes? Maybe they pick at their skin or bite their fingernails? Do they clear their throat for no apparent reason? Do they have verbal outbursts they can’t control? Do they stutter? Or do they blink their eyes repeatedly?

Children who struggle with unwanted compulsive behaviors often feel ashamed and experience social isolation. They may have trouble making or keeping friends. They may begin a pattern of underachievement in academics.

Habit Reversal Training has been shown to be a very effective treatment for children struggling with compulsive behaviors, tics and habits. It is easy for children to understand and often has long-term benefits. And it works for adults too!!

In this article, we examine Habit Reversal Training. We share what it is and how it works. We’ll also share where your child can get help with unwanted compulsive behaviors.



What Is Habit Reversal Training?


Habit Reversal Training (HRT) is a type of behavioral intervention treatment to address unwanted, persistent, repeated behaviors. These behaviors are often seen in psychological disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Tourette’s Syndrome, and Trichotillomania.

HRT can treat behaviors that often occur with these types of disorders. A 2013 review study showed that HRT could reduce tic severity (often thought of as untreatable) by up to 37%.



There are 5 key components to Habit Reversal Training:

1. Awareness Training

This involves becoming aware each time they engage in the unwanted behavior. We also work to identify the specific trigger causing the behavior.

2. Competing Response Training

Learning a competing, alternative behavior to use in place of the unwanted behavior is a crucial component.


3. Contingency Management

Training and education is required to maximize one’s motivation and compliance with Habit Reversal Training.


4. Relaxation Training

Learning specific relaxation techniques helps to avoid the unwanted behavior.


5. Generalization Training

Finally, practicing these steps in a public setting allows one to use the HRT method independently, without the real-time guidance of their mental health professional.



What Habit Reversal Training Looks Like in Action


Sam is an 11-year-old boy struggling with compulsive throat-clearing. He feels the need to clear his throat several times an hour. The other children in Sam’s class have noticed and tease him about it. He’s embarrassed, but isn’t able to stop. Most of the time, he doesn’t even notice he’s doing it!

He has therapy sessions with a counselor who coaches him through Habit Reversal Training.

First, Sam learns awareness around his behavior. He explores when he’s mostly likely to do it. The scenario or thought process that triggers the behavior. And how the behavior makes him feel.

Next, Sam learns a competing behavior to take the place of throat-clearing. When he feels the urge to clear his throat, he chooses to focus on deep breathing instead. This particular replacement behavior also helps reduce his anxiety.

Finally, he practices deep breathing in place of throat-clearing in new environments like at home, at church, and eventually at school.

Although he still feels the compulsion to clear his throat, Sam used Habit Reversal Training to overcome his unwanted behavior.



We must be careful in helping a child or loved one overcome an unwanted, compulsive behavior. We don’t want them to feel shame. We don’t want to crush their spirit, self-esteem or confidence (even more).

The key to Habit Reversal Training is to deploy it so that we simultaneously build the child’s confidence. We leave the child realizing they are competent and capable of overcoming personal difficulties.


Contact Creative Counseling Center

If your child is struggling with unwanted compulsive behaviors, a mental health professional with a background in Habit Reversal Training can help. At Creative Counseling Center, we have therapists who are accepting new patients and would love to help your child learn tools that will support them for years to come. Request a FREE Phone Consultation using the form below and a member of our team will reach out to you. After a conversation about your circumstances, we will be able to determine whether our practice and which therapist is the best fit. If our practice is not right for you or your family, we’re happy to offer recommendations to Denver metro area providers. We look forward to hearing from you.