Counselling for headaches or migraines
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Emma Cameron, MA. Integrative Arts Psychotherapist UKCP, HCPC
1st March, 20150 Comments
Are headaches or migraines a problem for you? Do you sometimes feel that emotional factors or stress are contributing to the problem? Maybe counselling or psychotherapy could be helpful.
For some people, counselling or psychotherapy can really help reduce their headaches or migraines. However, it’s possible that your headaches or migraines may continue to be a problem - unfortunately, there is no miracle cure or a guarantee of relief.
What causes a migraine? It’s different for different people - typically it's a mixture of:
- your genes
- environmental and lifestyle triggers (e.g. food and drink intolerances, medication overuse, the weather, lack of sleep)
- hormones, blood pressure, muscle tension, posture, an undiagnosed medical condition, etc.
- emotional factors.
The first thing to do is to visit your GP. They will check to see if there are any serious underlying medical issues. They can also prescribe preventive medication if it is appropriate for you.
Secondly, educate yourself about migraine prevention, triggers, and management. Websites such as www.migraine.org.uk provide useful advice.
And if you suspect that emotional factors are contributing to your head pain, counselling or psychotherapy are well worth trying.
What are some of the emotional factors that might trigger a migraine or headache? They often include:
- feelings that are held-in (perhaps anger, sadness, or even excitement)
- grief that hasn’t been fully processed
- workplace stress
- perfectionism and self-criticism
- insecurity in your relationship
- trying to push down thoughts or desires that feel unacceptable
- a sense that you are somehow wasting your potential
- unprocessed difficult or traumatic memories.
All of these are things that a good counsellor or therapist will be able to help you work on.
Part of a therapist's work involves helping a migraine or headache sufferer find a deep, healing self-compassion. Then gently investigate how their ‘inner critic’ got started, and find ways to soften and adapt that self-criticism so that it becomes a helpful, guiding voice rather than a harsh and punitive one.
Another aspect of a therapist's work is to help the client identify and sort out their feelings and thoughts so that things feel clearer and straighter, and less overwhelming. The client gradually learns new ways to express emotions and opinions safely and comfortably.
Therapy can also give them a new sense of perspective on their life, which can help them feel less stressed.
It can feel like an enormous relief to talk through your feelings with your therapist. Migraine sufferers tend to shield others from knowing how agonising the pain can be; ironically, isolating oneself like this can make the pain feel even worse. There’s also the added pain of feeling guilty for having to miss out on social plans and work events; and the stinging pain of criticism (real or imagined) from colleagues or others who don’t understand how bad a migraine can really be.
Headaches and migraines have many causes, and having counselling is unlikely to mean you’ll never suffer with them again — but it is likely to help you develop tools and experiences that will help in many situations, and may well reduce the frequency of your attacks.
I wish you well, and hope that you find the unique combination of treatment that will help you feel a lot better a lot more of the time.
About the author
Emma Cameron is an Integrative Arts Psychotherapist working in London and Colchester. She specialises in helping people who don't understand why they keep struggling with moods, problem habits, feelings, eating, or relationships. She is passionate about helping people discover how to tap in to the wisdom and strength of their deepest creative self.
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