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Hypnosis for Migraines & Other Headaches

Headaches come in many different varieties, and certainly it’s doubtful that those who have only experienced the occasional, relatively minor discomfort of the type headache that requires a couple of Tylenol can even begin to fathom the nightmare of true migraines, debilitating tension headaches, and various others that commonly send sufferers to the emergency room.  The science of these headaches in fact, is actually quite specialized.  So much so, that in many cases, the family doctor may not even attempt to treat the issue and will immediately refer the patient to a neurologist who specializes in headaches.  In the event that the patient is a child, this makes the area of expertise required even more specialized, requiring the treatment of a pediatric neurologist and often means traveling to a children’s hospital.  These types of headaches are debilitating, and of course as most any parent would attest, the only thing worse than going through the pain of a migraine themselves, would be to have to watch your child go through it.

Fortunately clinical research has shown hypnotherapy to be very effective for both adults and children who are dealing with chronic headaches.  In fact, it’s one of the areas most often associated with hypnosis.

As time permits in the coming weeks, this page will be updated with an article which will chronicle the findings of several clinical research studies.  These studies sought to determine the efficacy of hypnosis and self-hypnosis in combating chronic headaches for both adults and pediatrics.  Additionally certain studies sought to follow-up years later to find out how hypnotherapy that proved effective years earlier, held up as the participants matured.

Until this page is updated, the American Hypnosis Association recommends the following articles to obtain more information about the effectiveness of hypnosis with migraines and other headaches.  Each article documents a clinical research study, and we have included a brief synopsis.  Should you wish to follow up further, the reference citation is included for each.

Should you wish to obtain additional information, or schedule an appointment, please contact us online, or call the office at 469-225-9040. 

Please note that pain is often the body's warning sign, and only a medical doctor is qualified to evaluate your situation and make a determination as to if it is safe to turn the pain off.  Therefore as with any condition that has or possibly has an underlying medical etiology, a medical referral is required for sessions related to headaches.

William Carpenter holds a certification in Emergency Hypnosis as well as a dual certification in Hypnosis and Pain Management from the American Hypnosis Association.

 

Study 1: “Migraines & Hypnotherapy”

Notes:  In this study, forty-seven subjects were recruited and asked to report the number and severity of migraines they had each month for one year.  Twenty-three subjects were treated with hypnosis (and taught self-hypnosis) and 24 were treated with prescription medications. 

Results: At the end of the study it was found that those who had been treated with hypnosis experienced significantly fewer blinding migraine attacks than did the medicated group.  Furthermore, 10 of those who had been treated with hypnosis no longer experienced any migraines at all, compared to only 3 in the group treated with pharmaceuticals.

Anderson, J. A. D., Basker, M. A., & Dalton, R. (1975). Migraine and hypnotherapy. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 23(1), 48-58.

Study 2:  “Review of the Efficacy of Clinical Hypnosis with Headaches and Migraines”

Notes:  After conducting a review on the success of hypnosis with cancer pain, a National Institute of Health Technology assessment panel concluded the research evidence was strong and that it warranted research into other areas of chronic pain such as headaches and migraines.  “This paper provides an updated review of the literature on the effectiveness of hypnosis in the treatment of headaches and migraines.

Results:  This study concludes that that in the treatment of headaches and migraines, hypnosis “meets the clinical psychology research criteria for being a well-established and efficacious treatment and is virtually free of the side effects, risks of adverse reactions, and ongoing expense associated with medication treatments.”  For those who frequently wake up with a headache or migraines, the author went on to point out the benefits of using an open ended self-hypnosis audio at bedtime.

Hammond, D. C. (2007). Review of the efficacy of clinical hypnosis with headaches and migraines. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55(2), 207-219.

Study 3:  “Comparison of Self-Hypnosis and Propranolol in the Treatment of Juvenile Classic Migraine.”

Notes:  This study focused on 28 children, ranging from 6 to 12 years of age, who were suffering from juvenile classic migraines.  The children were randomly placed into two groups.  One group received a placebo for the first three months, while the other received traditional prescription medication.  At the end of the three months they switched, so the group who had been receiving the prescription drugs were then given the placebo, and those who were receiving the placebo were switched to the prescription drug for a further three months. At the end of this initial 6-month period both groups were then taught self-hypnosis.

Results: The study found that the mean number of headaches experienced was 13.3 while taking the placebo, and 14.9 while taking the prescription drug Propranolol.  That number dropped to 5.8 when utilizing self-hypnosis.

Olness, K., MacDonald, J. T., & Uden, D. L. (1987). Comparison of self-hypnosis and propranolol in the treatment of juvenile classic migraine. Pediatrics, 79(4), 593-597.

Study 4:  “Treatment of Chronic Tension-Type Headache with Hypnotherapy: A Single-Blind Time Controlled Study”

Notes:  This paper reports on a study where a special hypnotic technique was used to help patients cope with chronic-tension type headaches.

Results:  When compared to a control group, the results showed that this hypnotic technique significantly reduced the intensity of the headaches. It also led to a significant reduction in the number of headache days, the number of headache hours, and anxiety.

Melis, P. M., Rooimans, W., Spierings, E. L., & Hoogduin, C. A. (1991). Treatment of Chronic Tension‐type Headache With Hypnotherapy: A Single‐blind Time Controlled Study. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 31(10), 686-689.

Study 5:  “Clinical Hypnotherapy/Self-Hypnosis for Unspecified, Chronic and Episodic Headache Without Migraine and Other Defined Headaches in Children and Adolescents”

Notes:  The intent of this study was to compare the effect of 5 sessions of hypnosis/self-hypnosis given at weekly intervals and lasting half an hour each with two psychological treatments requiring the same amount of time, namely behavior therapy and talks to the doctor.

Results:  The hypnosis/self-hypnosis approach seemed to be superior not only in terms of frequency and intensity of the headaches, but also concerning the patients' ability to keep their headaches and their well-being under control.

Gysin, T. (1999). [Clinical hypnotherapy/self-hypnosis for unspecified, chronic and episodic headache without migraine and other defined headaches in children and adolescents]. Forschende Komplementarmedizin, 6, 44-46.

Study 6:  “Self-Hypnosis Training for Headaches in Children and Adolescents”

Notes:  A retrospective review was conducted of outpatient clinical records of 178 consecutive youths referred to the Behavioral Pediatrics Program (University ofMinnesota) from 1988 to 2001 for recurrent headaches. All patients were taught self-hypnosis for self-regulation. Intensity, frequency, and duration of headaches before, during, and after treatment were measured. Outcomes included number and frequency of visits, types of medication, and nature of self-hypnosis practice.

Results: Data were available for 144 patients in this patient self-selected and uncontrolled observation. Compared with self-reports before learning self-hypnosis, children and youths who learned self-hypnosis for recurrent headaches reported reduction in frequency of headache from an average of 4.5 per week to 1.4 per week, reduction in intensity from an average of 10.3 to 4.7, and reduction in average duration from 23.6 hours to 3.0 hours.  There were no adverse side effects of self-hypnosis.

Conclusion:  Training in self-hypnosis is associated with significant improvement of chronic recurrent headaches in children and adolescents.

Kohen, D. P., & Zajac, R. (2007). Self-hypnosis training for headaches in children and adolescents. The Journal of pediatrics, 150(6), 635-639.

Study 7:  “Hypnosis in the Treatment of Headache: Is Hypnotherapy Beneficial?”

Results:  In the childhood migraine and adult migraine studies, headache frequency was significantly decreased with hypnosis compared with pharmacotherapy, with either propranolol or prochlorperazine. In the studies of recurrent headaches, mean daily headache index and headache days per week were significantly decreased with hypnosis.

Conclusion:  Study results suggest that hypnosis is of benefit in the treatment of headache – whether the headache is migrainous or nonmigrainous, episodic, or chronic.

Spierings, N. M., & Spierings, E. L. (2007). Hypnosis in the treatment of headache: Is hypnotherapy beneficial?. Headache & Pain: Diagnostic Challenges, Current Therapy.

Study 8:  “Long-Term Follow-Up of Self-Hypnosis Training for Recurrent Headaches: What the Children Say”

Notes:  This article represents the result of a long-term follow-up survey of a previously identified and reported cohort of 144 young people with chronic, recurrent headaches who successfully applied self-hypnosis training to self-regulation and modulation of headaches.  The survey was conducted to examine the self-perceptions of children and adolescents regarding the effects and possible benefits of self-hypnosis in their lives over time, both on the headaches for which they were originally taught self-hypnosis and on other circumstances in their lives.  Most respondents who added their own narrative described not only multiple applications but also included aspects of how and when they apply their self-hypnosis skills.

Results:  Years after treatment, 85% reported continued relief with self-hypnosis, 44% reported decreased headache frequency, 31% noted decreased severity, and 56%  reported that self-hypnosis reduced headache intensity. Many emphasized the value of self-hypnosis to life stresses.  In children and adolescents, self-hypnosis is associated with significant improvement of headaches and with an enduring positive effect for many years following training.

Kohen, D. P. (2010). Long-term follow-up of self-hypnosis training for recurrent headaches: What the children say. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 58(4), 417-432.