Written and reviewed by Ralph Miller, certified clinical hypnotherapist | Edited by Sahar Miller | Last Update November 12, 2020
If you experience headaches or migraines, you’re not alone.
It’s estimated that three billion individuals experience a migraine or tension-type headache. And while headaches may be a symptom of a serious condition, many headaches have no known cause.
So if that describes you, you may be tired of taking over the counter medication or maybe you’re concerned about taking opioids or other medications typically covered by insurance. Maybe you’re seeking complementary and alternative therapies that can help alleviate your headache, so you can move on with your life.
While there are many headache remedies, hypnosis may be one treatment option you want to consider for your headaches or migraines and we’re going to share why…
But first, let’s take a look at what a headache is and the most prevalent cause, which you may find surprising…
What is a headache?
According to the World Health Organization, headaches are categorized into tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. They are characterized by pain in the head and are often recurring with no known cause.
According to Jensen et al, “globally, the percentage of the adult population with an active headache disorder is 47% for headache in general, 10% for migraine, 38% for tension-type headache, and 3% for chronic headache that lasts for more than 15 days per month.”
According to researcher De Benedittis, 90% of headaches are recurrent and benign, with no underlying disease, disorder, or structural problem, and they are prevalent throughout our society, causing missed days at work, missed social engagements, loss of earnings, job loss, unwanted job change, as well as other significant issues.
Further, the number one cause of migraines and tension headaches is psychological stress. And that’s where hypnosis comes in. Let’s talk about how it works…
Does it Work? (research)
Yes, research has demonstrated that participants who received four 1-hour sessions of hypnosis experienced significant reductions in the number of headache days, hours, and intensity of headaches as well as a significant reduction in anxiety levels.
Another study has shown hypnosis to be effective in “reducing headache pain, usage of pain medication, depression, and state anxiety.”
Researcher Hammond did a review of the literature on the effectiveness of hypnosis in the treatment of headaches and migraines, concluding that hypnotherapy “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.”
This is great news!
It means that hypnotherapy, especially when taught to the individual in the form of self-hypnosis, has a very low cost in comparison to medication, with virtually no side effects and all the benefits when it comes to reducing the pain of headaches and migraines.
In fact, the Handbook of Medical Psychological Hypnosis states that hypnosis “is also virtually free of side effects, risks of adverse reactions, and ongoing expense associated with medication treatments. Hypnosis should be recognized by the scientific and health care communities as being an effective, reliable evidence-based practice for headache management.”
How Many Sessions?
While hypnosis may be used as a stand-alone treatment, research suggests it is far more effective if you learn self-hypnosis and practice daily in addition to receiving regular professional treatments.
Once a week professional treatments for a period of three months were found to be effective when utilized with twice-daily practice of self-hypnosis.
The cost of hypnotherapy sessions varies by geographic area and by practitioner. While hypnosis is a cost-effective treatment option, professional sessions may become expensive. That is why it is advisable to learn and practice daily self-hypnosis in conjunction with your professional hypnotherapy treatments.
Keep in mind that undergoing hypnotherapy treatment may be more expensive than medication initially, with costs becoming more competitive with medication after about 6 months, and after approximately one year, hypnotherapy is likely to cost less to manage your headache than all but the cheapest of over-the-counter medications.
In addition, some insurance may also cover the cost of hypnosis, such as Cigna or Humana. While Medicare won’t cover the cost of hypnotherapy, some medicare supplemental insurance may so be sure to ask.
Frequently asked questions
Does hypnotherapy work for headaches and migraines?
Yes, research suggests that professional hypnosis sessions along with self-hypnosis practice can be very beneficial in reducing headache pain. In addition, those utilizing hypnotherapy may also experience a lessened need for medication for their headaches. Other symptoms associated with anxiety and depression may also be improved through the use of hypnotherapy.
Does Medicare cover hypnotherapy?
No, Medicare doesn’t cover hypnotherapy for headache pain. Some supplemental insurance plans may include hypnotherapy, so be sure to ask.
How often should I get hypnotherapy for headaches?
It is advisable to discuss the frequency of your hypnotherapy treatments with a professional hypnotherapist in your area. A good place to start based on research might be one professional treatment weekly with daily self-hypnosis in the morning and evening.
What are the side effects of using hypnotherapy for headaches or migraines?
No. Research supports that hypnotherapy is virtually free of the side effects or risks of adverse reactions when used for headaches.
There are many complementary and alternative therapies that may help with headaches and migraines, including:
- Energy Medicine
- Guided imagery and visualization
- Massage Therapy
- Yoga Therapy
Before using hypnosis to treat headaches or migraines, it’s essential for you to get a proper medical diagnosis. Headaches or migraines with an underlying state of disease can be very serious and should not be ignored. Speak with your physician or medical professional about getting a proper medical diagnosis and what treatment recommendations are appropriate for your condition.
Work with a professional hypnotherapist in your area to determine how hypnotherapy may best help you and the frequency of treatment that’s right for you. If possible, learn self-hypnosis and practice regularly along with your professional treatments.
Downloadable Resources: Hypnotherapy for headaches and migraines
De Benedittis, G. (2017). Headaches—Adults. In G. R. Elkins (Ed.), Handbook of medical and psychological hypnosis: Foundations, applications, and professional issues (p. 245–257). Springer Publishing Company.
Elkins, G. R. (2017). Handbook of Medical and Psychological Hypnosis. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
Hammond D. C. (2007). Review of the efficacy of clinical hypnosis with headaches and migraines. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(2), 207–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140601177921
GBD 2016 Headache Collaborators (2018). Global, regional, and national burden of migraine and tension-type headache, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. Neurology, 17(11), 954-976. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(18)30322-3
Jensen, R., & Stovner, L. J. (2008). Epidemiology and comorbidity of headache. The Lancet. Neurology, 7(4), 354–361. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(08)70062-0
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, 31(10), 686–689. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1991.hed3110686.x
Schafer, A. M., Rains, J. C., Penzien, D. B., Groban, L., Smitherman, T. A., & Houle, T. T. (2011). Direct costs of preventive headache treatments: comparison of behavioral and pharmacologic approaches. Headache, 51(6), 985–991. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2011.01905.x
ter Kuile, M. M., Spinhoven, P., Linssen, A. C., Zitman, F. G., Van Dyck, R., & Rooijmans, H. G. (1994). Autogenic training and cognitive self-hypnosis for the treatment of recurrent headaches in three different subject groups. Pain, 58(3), 331–340. https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-3959(94)90127-9