• Think you have tried everything to cure your symptoms? 

  • Liz Jeffries explains how therapy can relieve a migraine

  • You can search for a therapist on our directory here

“I’ve tried everything!” Does this sound familiar? Do you suffer from migraines and have tried all the painkillers, preventative medications, herbal remedies, meditating, alternative health treatments and still are feeling intense pain?

Perhaps some or all of these treatments have been effective in the short-term but they haven’t taken away the pain on a more permanent basis.

Psychotherapy can offer a further level of support. Experiences can be unravelled. Headaches can be investigated. Emotions can be explored. 

You may wonder “But I have a physical pain here. What has that got to do with emotions?” Well, the pain of migraine is real.  There is no question about that. At times you may be able to think of nothing but the pain. The body may go rigid and the brain may feel like jelly (or you have “brain fog”). But what is migraine exactly?

It is:

  • A biochemical imbalance
  • Confusion
  • A conversion headache, meaning that psychological distress is “converted” into a physical symptom 
  • Caused by depression or it develops as the result of depression.
  • A reaction to grief
  • Caused by personality traits such as neuroticism and perfectionism

Yet another explanation is that migraines appear when emotions are suppressed: feelings such as as anger, sadness, fear (or anxiety) and disappointment. Resentments, and dissatisfaction too, may trigger a migraine. 

Something else to ponder on, perhaps, is that migraines have been linked to mood disorders, the theory being that a migraine can precede the onset of mental disorders.

Mental disorder, a migraine? Really? Well, considering the notion of a “disorder”, a term often thought of as a confused state, we can perhaps conceptualise migraine as a symptom of confusion. Confusion about what though? Is the confusion that exists when a migraine strikes a confusion about what action to take? (an example might be, “shall I make a meal for my partner or go to my child’s concert?”). Or is the confusion being held at a deeper level within the psyche? 

Psychotherapy can help in this latter case. It can help you make contact with needs and feelings which have not been met in the past, and acquire the capacity for experiencing these safely and securely internally. When in touch with feelings, choices and decisions can be made with full awareness and comfort of the emotions that go with the decision-making processes.

The pain of migraine and emotional difficulties often do go together. There is hope though. Pain can dramatically lessen, if not disappear entirely. This is not to suggest that the physical pain you are experiencing is not real, is “self-inflicted” or is minor. Rather, the fact that physical pain and emotions are so intertwined demonstrates how the body and mind work powerfully together.

Psychotherapy is one way of working through the pain and fear of a migraine. It may well be difficult to look outside of the pain and consider its purpose. Does pain have a purpose? Perhaps if there is one, it can be seen as a form of protection, to avoid the impact of strongly held and overwhelming emotional feelings. However, some say (and I am one who says this) that facing these emotions is a walk in the park compared to suffering the pain of migraine hour after hour, day after day. 

So, is there just one more thing that might be worth trying to find the solution for your migraines? 

Further reading

My migraines were a symptom of psychological distress

How to build resilience against chronic pain

The impact of chronic pain on mental health

Yoga for chronic pain