Dr. Barbara Coffey Honored by Tourette Association of America

The advocacy and fundraising organization cited her years of work on behalf of patients with Tourette Syndrome and tic disorders.

Barbara Coffey, M.D., M.S., professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, division chief for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, was honored by the Tourette Association of America (TAA) for her work on behalf of people with Tourette Syndrome and tic disorders.

Dr. Barbara Coffey speaking at the podium at the Tourette Association of America gala.
Barbara Coffey, M.D., M.S., speaking at the Tourette Association of America gala.

The honor was bestowed at the association’s annual gala at the Tribeca Rooftop in Manhattan on Nov. 1.

 “I’ve worked with the TAA for years, so I know firsthand the importance of their commitment to individuals with Tourette syndrome and their families,” Dr. Coffey said. “I am incredibly appreciative of this honor and look forward to continuing with our mutual mission to find viable solutions for people with Tourette Syndrome.”

International Expertise in Tourette Syndrome

An internationally recognized specialist in Tourette Syndrome and related disorders, Dr. Coffey established and has led the UHealth Tics, OCD and Related Problems Program since 2017. The program received TAA designation as a Center of Excellence in 2019 in recognition of the program:

  • Offering the highest level of care for Tourette Syndrome and other tic disorders
  • Conducting groundbreaking research in the field
  • Training the next generation of clinicians and specialists
  • Providing outstanding advocacy and outreach

In bestowing the organization’s highest honor, TAA pointed to Dr. Coffey’s long history of clinical and research excellence, which includes considerable work with two TAA boards.

“We recognize and celebrate Barbara’s years of volunteerism, including but not limited to, co-chairing our Medical Advisory Board, serving as a member of our Scientific Advisory Board, leading the TAA Center of Excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and previously at the TAA Center of Excellence at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and her advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill,” TAA said in a statement.

Early Encounter with Tourette Syndrome Patient

Dr. Coffey began her work with Tourette patients in the 1980s and traces her interest in the field to a child who exhibited typical symptoms of the disorder but whose obscenity-laden outbursts only happened at church.

“To me, this was really fascinating,” said Dr. Coffey. “I knew that Tourette’s was a genetic disorder, yet there were major psychological aspects to it.”

Dr. Coffey discovered the child’s parents had extensive histories in the Catholic church earlier in their lives. His father had spent time in a seminary, his mother in a convent. But both had left and later married and had children. And the father had severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, putting his son at high risk for Tourette Syndrome.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the child,” Dr. Coffey said, but suggested a straightforward solution. “I told the parents, ‘Maybe we should just keep him out of church.’ And the outbursts went away.”

It was the causal blend of nature and nurture that fueled Dr. Coffey’s passion and set a course for her career.

“There’s an interaction between the genetic vulnerability and environmental precipitants,” she said. “We know that Tourette disorder has a genetic origin. But there is also a whole range of neuropsychiatric disorders that are present with this syndrome, including ADHD, OCD, and anxiety and mood disorders.”

The TAA is the only national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those affected by Tourette Syndrome, tic disorders, and co-occurring conditions. All proceeds fund raising awareness, advancing research, and fostering support.

Tags: Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Barbara Coffey, Tourette Association of America, Tourette syndrome