EMDR Treatment of Migraines


By Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids (Can't Concentrate: 14/365) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


In the latest Journal of EMDR Practice and Research: Volume 5- Number 4, 2011, a study was done on the treatment of EMDR and migraines. This study was done in Istanbul hospital to see how effective EMDR in the treatment of trauma related to headaches. The sample was with people who suffered from headaches everyday.

Anyone who has ever suffered migraines knows that the pain can be debilitating. The World Health Organization (2004) reported that 1 in 20 people suffer from headaches everyday and 3000 daily migraine attacks occur per each million of the general population. Some headaches are caused from organic issues from illness or head traumas. While others have no underlying issues. Migraines can be accompanied by nausea, seeing auras, vomiting, dizziness, etc. Many headaches are treated with medications and/or behavioral treatments based on self-regulation skills such as relaxation training or biofeedback.

In the article another protocol was mentioned: Marcus (2008) developed a migraine treatment combining eye movements and diaphragmatic breathing, plus cranial compression – modifying the EMDR protocol. The breathing helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings on a relaxation response. Results showed this technique is effective in alleviating headaches. I studied with Marcus at the 2008 EMDRIA conference to learn his protocol and have found it quite effective in working with people who have headaches in the moment.

For this particular study there was an EMDR headache protocol developed:

  1. Traumatic events that connected to headaches – first headache remembered
  2. Any traumatic events that took place close to the headaches beginning
  3. First, worst, last
  4. Current Triggers
  5. Future template based on triggers
  6. Any other traumas not connected to the headaches

The results showed a significant decrease in headache frequency and duration with no reduction in pain intensity. Also, there was a decrease in the use of painkillers and visits to the ER.

I have found in my own treatment of headaches for clients that this approach works very well and that clients do experience some relief. When clients can process traumas that they haven’t been able to, it decreases the trauma response in the body. Helping clients learn to self-soothe, regulate when first signs of headaches appears, allows them to feel more in control of the headaches.

This was an exciting study and I hope EMDR therapists will start examining and working with headaches through the use of targeting traumas that help headache suffers digest old traumas so that they can be present in the moment.

For more detailed information on this study please join EMDRIA so that you can receive the quarterly journal.