Behavioral Medicine – Other Areas of Research Expertise

Although the majority of research efforts in the Division of Behavioral Medicine are military-focused, with potential application to both the military/veteran population and the general public, division faculty also are involved in a variety of studies either directly with civilians or applying military-related research to broad public health issues.

Tourette’s and other tic disorders

Tourette disorder, a neurological condition characterized by persistent, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics, affects an estimated 6 per 1,000 school-age children and 1 per 2,000 adults. For some, they become a disruptive, embarrassing, lifelong problem, causing substantial impairment. Medications can be helpful, but they rarely eliminate all tics, and they can cause troubling side effects that often lead patients to refuse or discontinue their use.

Dr. Alan Peterson and others in the Division of Behavioral Medicine are involved with research on cognitive-behavioral approaches to improved tic management. Dr. Peterson is a co-investigator with a multi-institutional research group that has conducted national trials with a highly effective Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics, or CBIT. It works in part by teaching patients to recognize a sensation, or premonitory urge, that often precedes a tic, and then to engage in a competing response that allows the urge to pass without performance of the tic-associated behavior.

Dr. Peterson and other division faculty also have conducted a pilot study with an intensive CBIT treatment program and are exploring additional opportunities in this area.

Lifestyle-related areas of research: Tobacco cessation and weight loss interventions

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the single most important thing individuals can do to improve their health is to quit tobacco use. And today, with surging overweight and obesity rates, losing weight is likely a close second. When Division Chief Alan Peterson was active duty with the U.S. Air Force, he was involved in a variety of research projects and cognitive-behavioral-based clinical programs of special interest to the military during peace time, including tobacco cessation and weight management. He continues to publish research findings on these topics and has authored a variety of books and book chapters for clinicians.

Chronic pain management

Several faculty in the Division of Behavioral Medicine have expertise in cognitive-behavioral approaches to the management of chronic pain, based in large part on previous and current research with the military and VA. Current research includes studies with veterans on the treatment of both posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic headaches following a traumatic brain injury, as well as on non-opioid treatment of chronic pain. One study with civilians uses couple’s therapy to help with chronic pain management and relationship satisfaction. Another looks at the feasibility of integrating a cognitive-behavioral therapy for chronic pain within primary care to see if it reduces physical disability and medication use. Division faculty also have conducted research and are publishing findings based on research with the military on the influence of chronic pain on suicide risk.

Exercising for better physical and mental health

Research has shown exercise to greatly benefit both physical and mental health. Division of Behavioral Medicine research in this area includes a current study with the military incorporating exercise with cognitive-behavioral therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder to see if it improves treatment outcomes. It also includes a previous program with funding from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to deliver and study the benefits of monitored exercise programs for those living with cancer.