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Dr. Doug Woods – Behavioral Health Clinic 25th Anniversary Inside Look

November 15th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

Behavior, Boys Town History, Bully, Healing Families, Mental Health, Quality Care, Saving Children, Understanding Behavior

The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health is celebrating 25 years of service to children and families in the Omaha area.

For a quarter century, the Center has provided life-changing therapy, treatment and specialty services to the emotionally fragile and behaviorally troubled. The Center also has a renowned internship and post-doctoral program, offering unrivaled training, research and clinical opportunities to educate and prepare future psychologists.

To mark this milestone anniversary, the Center is spotlighting some of its former interns and post-doctoral scholars whose careers have been shaped by their Boys Town experience.

We recently sat down with Dr. Doug Woods, a 1998-99 intern, to catch up on his career, reminisce about his internship at the Center and discover why a selfie he took in the middle of the Milwaukee airport has special significance.  

Dr. Woods leads the Tic and OCD-Spectrum Disorders Clinic at Marquette University and is the dean of the Marquette University Graduate School.

You have contributed to groundbreaking research on Tourette's syndrome and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. What led you to focus your research in that area?

My interest began while I was completing my master's degree. My advisor was involved in that type of research, so I started then and continued through my doctoral program. At Boys Town, I worked with a child who had Tourette's and it sort of evolved into my research career.

You direct the Tic and OCD-Spectrum Disorders Clinic at Marquette. What type of work is being done there?  

We research all aspects of OCD-related conditions, specifically Tourette's and trichotillomania (hair-pulling), including the variables that lead to the cause of the disorder all the way through treatment development, testing and dissemination. This includes getting the treatments out to practitioners and patients so they can use and benefit from them.

What treatments or therapies have you developed at the clinic?   

We've done a lot of work on understanding how the environment makes tics happen. That's helped us develop non-drug treatments like the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics, or CBIT. It's been tested and shown to be as effective as anti-psychotic medications but without the side effects. We've also worked on getting that treatment out to people in ways they can access. We've created CBIT training protocols to train therapists and developed an online self-help version of the treatment so patients without access to therapists can access the treatment.

When I was at Boys Town, we had behavior therapy for Tourette's but nobody in the medical community thought it was very acceptable to do that. It wasn't considered a first-line treatment. Now, the American Academy of Neurology just released Clinical Practice Guidelines for the treatment of tics that puts the behavior therapy treatment we developed as the first-line treatment for kids with Tourette's. The work we put in has changed the way kids are treated with this condition. To me, that's exciting.

Is this considered a cure for those with the disorder?

There really are no cures for these conditions, but you can bring them under control and reduce symptoms through a management process. What we aim for is to reduce the symptoms by helping children learn the skills to control the problem when it flairs up. Typically, we start by asking what in the environment makes tics worse and then help families modify the environment to reduce those triggers.

Did your Boys Town training inform the way you approached your research and how you work with children and families?  

At Boys Town, I got to see firsthand the power of having an environment where you could really implement a behavioral model and how powerful that model could be in making change happen in kids, kids a lot of people had given up on. Boys Town had a profound impact on how I think clinically, the role I see the environment playing in children's behavior and how important the environment is in causing and recovering from problems.

Why did you choose the Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health for your internship?

I had an opportunity to go to the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins or Boys Town. I had worked with Dr. Friman (long-time Center director) and had a lot of respect for him. But Boys Town wasn't at the top of my list before I went to visit. But when I walked around campus, it was one of the few times in my life that I knew just by being there that it was where I needed to be. I've only had that experience maybe one other time in my life. I knew there was good going on, and Boys Town was living its mission. That had a really powerful effect on me.

Do you have a favorite memory or moment from your time there?

This may sound a little weird, but one of the most memorable moments had nothing to do with my internship yet it had everything to do with it. One of the first Friday nights there, I went to a Boys Town football game. In the middle of the game, it struck me how completely normal it felt. Here I am at an institution filled with children who have real significant behavioral and emotional problems and yet, if you put them in the right environment, it's just like every other Friday night everywhere across the country. I knew what kinds of problems these kids were dealing with and yet in the right environment they were having a normal life, and that was cool to see.

Are there any other Boys Town memories that stand out?

About four years ago, I was sitting in the terminal at the Milwaukee airport waiting for passengers to disembark from the plane I was about to board. One of the first people off appeared like a black flash running across my field of vision. Even though I was sort of looking down, I thought it was someone I knew and did a double take. Sure enough, it was Father Val Peter. (Father Peter was Boys Town's National Executive Director from 1985 to 2005; his tenure included the creation of the Center for Behavioral Health). I ran after him and explained who I was by describing a real memorable case that I knew he couldn't have forgotten. "Oh, yeah! I remember you," he said. Then I took a selfie with him in the middle of the airport, almost 20 years after I had left Boys Town. I still have the photo, and my Boys Town Certificate of Completion is hanging on my office wall.

Thank you, Dr. Woods!

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