How Does Psychological Intervention Treat Headaches?
Just as there is no single perfect cure for migraines and stress headaches, there is also no single cause. Each headache patient can have one or a combination of causes, including psychiatric or psychological factors that can trigger headaches or make them worse. These factors can include:
- Emotional stress of dealing with everyday life
- Biochemical imbalances involved with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorders
- Traumatic or stressful life events
Because psychological aspects are such an important component of the cause of headaches and the impact they have on patients’ lives, psychotherapy and counseling can often prove beneficial.
What Is Psychological Therapy?
Psychological treatment begins with the patient talking with a mental health provider about life problems that are causing stress, anxiety or depression. Psychotherapy and counseling seek to resolve these problems through either internal or external changes. Mental health professionals can identify patterns of behavior or life incidents that are triggering headaches or making them worse.
Since some patients have external circumstances that can’t be modified, psychotherapy and counseling can help them adapt to and deal with their situations. This approach, along with treating conditions such as anxiety, can be helpful. One of the more successful anxiety treatments is biofeedback, which uses behavioral modification to allow a patient’s body to heal itself.
Psychotherapy and counseling aren’t right for every patient. Some patients’ emotional reactions are a direct result of the headache pain itself – there are no inner causes or outer reasons. For these patients, training in coping mechanisms can be an effective part of their treatment program.
Types of Psychotherapy
There are multiple types of psychotherapy and counseling that work for migraines and chronic headaches, and one or more can be effective for you. A good place to start is Cognitive Belief Therapy, which helps patients identify unhealthy and negative behaviors and beliefs, and gives them the tools to substitute more positive ones. Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of CBT that teaches behaviors that help to handle stress, improve interpersonal relationships and manage emotions.
Acceptance and commitment therapy increases your ability to deal with stress and its resulting emotions. It does this by helping you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, and then committing to making positive changes.
With psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy, you’ll focus on increased awareness of unconscious behaviors and thoughts. This will cause you to develop new insights into your emotional makeup and motivations, allowing you to more easily resolve conflicts.
You may also benefit from interpersonal psychotherapy, which puts the focus on relationships and the way you deal with other people, and supportive psychotherapy, which helps you learn stronger coping skills for difficult and stressful situations.
Adkins Headache Center: Psychotherapy and Counseling
Our specialist here at Adkins Headache Center need to be informed of life circumstances and habits that might influence any patient’s migraine or chronic headache conditions. Sometimes, after all the physical tests have been performed, we find that there is no definitive reason for a chronic headache problem. In that case, we recommend a psychological assessment.
The results of this assessment are combined with various lifestyle factors in determining the best treatment mix for each patient. Some of the many factors we include in this determination are:
- Common moods
- Living circumstances
- Substance abuse problems
- History of depression or anxiety
- Ways of coping with headache pain
- Cognitive difficulties
After looking at all these factors, we may determine that psychotherapy and counseling will be a good fit along with the rest of the patient’s other treatment options. Although we have plans to add therapists to the practice, we don’t have psychotherapists on staff now, but we currently refer our patients to well-respected therapists in the area. They’ve been key in providing excellent results with multiple patients and they will use any or all of the above treatment options that each patient appears to need.