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Treatment of Headaches With Hypnosis

Reducing triggers and discomfort of headaches.

Key points

  • Treatment of headaches is one of the most widely studied applications of hypnosis.
  • Common types of headaches include tension headaches and migraines.
  • Patients with headaches often need to apply hypnotic techniques for several months to gain full benefit.
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Source: Alex Green/Pexels

Headaches can be caused by many triggers, including alcohol (especially red wine), certain foods (such as meats that contain nitrates), poor sleep, poor posture, skipped meals, and stress.

  • The most common type of headache is known as “tension headache,” which causes a dull, aching pain or pressure on the forehead, sides, or back of the head.
  • Migraines are another type of common headache that cause severe throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. These headaches often are associated with nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. Some migraines are preceded for a few minutes by an aura that can cause visual disturbances or tingling on one side of the face, arm, or leg.
  • Headaches can also be caused by many other problems, including a concussion, infections, or even tumors.

Treatment of headaches is one of the most widely studied applications of hypnosis (Hammond, 2007). Hypnosis can be used to help with headaches by reducing or preventing the effect of the triggers, as well as to help address the discomfort caused by the headaches. It should be noted that patients often need to apply hypnotic techniques for several months to gain full benefit from this very effective approach in treatment of their headaches.

Reducing Triggers of Headaches

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Source: Mike/Pexels

Psychological stress is a very common trigger of physical symptoms, including of headaches. Two thirds of my patients with physical symptoms improve greatly with use of hypnosis to achieve a state of relaxation, for example, by imagining a safe, relaxing place.

Another way patients can be trained to relax themselves involves imagining a sailboat sitting on the tip of the sternum (breastbone) just above the stomach. With each inhalation the sailboat rises, and then falls with exhalation. Watching the sailboat for a few moments can lead to a profound sense of relaxation.

Patients who develop auras before migraines can be taught to use hypnotic calming techniques as soon as the aura starts, which sometimes prevents the onset.

Improved sleep can lead to a reduction in headaches. Thus, the use of hypnosis to achieve improvement of insomnia can be of great benefit.

Interactions with the subconscious can help patients identify triggers of their headaches. This is especially true of food. Subconscious exploration for this purpose can be helpful because oftentimes patients are socially influenced with their food and drink choices, which can lead them to underestimate their possible negative effects. For example, consider a teenager who abuses alcohol during parties. This patient may choose to drink alcohol to fit in with his peers.

On the other hand, the subconscious typically does not care about social factors. Thus, the subconscious may state that the patient should not drink because this can hurt him, rather than be concerned about his friends’ reactions.

Reducing the Discomfort of Headaches

There are many hypnotic techniques that can be adapted to help improve headaches. A simple one involves asking patients to imagine their headache as a particular color, and then changing that color in their mind’s eye to the color of their head when it feels well.

Chris F/Pexels
Source: Chris F/Pexels

Alternatively, patients might be asked what creature might be causing their headaches. A commonly cited creature is a woodpecker pecking at a patient’s head.

Patients then can be asked what the creature would rather be doing. For example, the woodpecker may prefer to peck at a delicious tree. The patient is then coached to imagine such a tree and to notice how their headache improves when the woodpecker flies there.

Yet another approach involves the patients imagining control panels in their minds that they can manipulate to reduce the intensity of their headaches.

Takeaway

Hypnosis can help treat headaches by helping to reduce the effect of their triggers and improve their associated discomfort.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar

References

Hammond, D. Corydon. (2007). “Review of the efficacy of clinical hypnosis with headaches and migraines.” Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 55:207-219.

More information about hypnosis and how it can be used to help with headaches is available in the 2021 book, "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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