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Complementary Alternatives Therapies

(EMDR) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy

  • By nancym

    Hello everyone,

    Does anyone have any experience or information regarding EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy)? I have a neighbor who has asked me about it and I’d like to know if it is a viable option for treatment of migraine. I’ve seen where it is primarily used for PTSD cases. I’d like to hear from someone who has tried it for migraine.

    Thanks!
    Nancy

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  • By Nancy Harris Bonk Moderator

    Hi Nancy,

    There is some conversation about this as an complementary therapy for migraine, but I don’t have any experience with it.

    Maybe some other members will be along shortly and lend you their experiences.

    Nancy

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  • By Katie M. Golden Moderator

    Nancy,
    The goal of EMDR is to help patients who have experienced trauma to deal with unresolved issues surrounding that experience. Most of the research on this technique has been done with patients who have some form of PTSD. Through using this technique, many patients are able to better cope with the lingering effects of their trauma. EMDR should also be conducted by a trained psychiatrist or psychologist.

    I personally have used EMDR to help with a specific traumatic experience I suffered about 6 years ago. I had an extremely hard time talking about it and also found it difficult to remember some of the details. EMDR helped me.

    I have come across some studies about the use of EMDR for Migraine patients but there hasn’t been a great wealth of research on this topic. Some people do believe that serious stress or traumatic events can cause or exacerbate Migraines. If you feel that this applies to you, maybe EMDR would be helpful for you to explore. However, it just doesn’t seem like there is a great emphasis in the mental health community on using it to specifically treat Migraines without there being a tie to a traumatic event.

    If you do persue EMDR, just make sure you are using a trained professional who you trust and understands what your goals and objectives are.

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  • By nancym

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks so much for the info. Your information is very helpful to me. The EMDR “event” that my neighbor has invited me to is for continuing education training so I’m not very comfortable with it. You are correct, this should be done by a trained professional. The information that I have found through research also points to a specific trauma which can be helped by EMDR. I have no history of anything traumatic so I’m thinking this may not be the treatment for me.

    Thank you for your input. I really appreciate it!

    Nancy

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  • By Linda

    I went to see my Primary Care Doc and she mentioned this to me. I actually do have some traumatic stuff from my past, so this may be an option for me. Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences.

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  • By Allison

    Kerrie, sounds like you have a good therapist. Eye movements aren’t recommended for someone with a history of migraine, it can exacerbate them so we use the “tappers” instead. And I think the best thing EMDR has done for me is take the fear away. I don’t live in constant fear of the next horrible attack now that I’ve worked through the traumas of my worst experiences. My anxiety is much lower now and I feel like I’m managing living with a chronic illness so much better. Wish I could be one of the people who gets rid of them completely but not yet…

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  • By Wimidwife

    I have also used EMDR for emotional trauma in therapy. We also use the handheld buzzers, as well as a headset that beeps on one side then the other in unison with the buzzers. Interestingly, my eyes do move back and forth even though they are closed. It has been really helpful for the emotional trauma. VERY intriguing that it can be used for migraine.

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  • By Cheryl

    I’ve had headaches as far back as I can remember and was diagnosed with Migraine last year. I also happened to go through a traumatic experience as a teen. Having recently been told about EMDR by my acupuncturist, I found a qualified therapist and jumped in. While I absolutely believe it has helped in mitigating PTSD responses, I am not confident it helped with migraine. At first it seemed to (headache days reduced by about 3/mo), but I just came out of July with 14+ headache days (I don’t count days with pain-level of 1 or 2 as a “headache day” despite my neurologist telling me they are!). I would encourage anyone who suffers aftereffects of a traumatic experience to try the therapy. I am going to continue visits with my therapist, hoping she can uncover some “stuff” in my subconscious that I may not be aware of yet. Also, EMDR is very interesting to experience. It’s quite trippy what your psyche comes out with. Anxiety levels attached to the event went from a level of 8 or 9 down to almost nothing, so I have to call this therapy effective and hope over time it will help kick the &^$# headaches to the curb. Good luck, everyone!

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  • By Jerryw9

    Excellent responses. Uncontrolled chronic pain produces much of the same psychological effects as torture (which certainly is a trauma) so EMDR (and other trauma-focused tools) have a place in migraine. I do agree with the use of the “tappers” and “beepers”. Old trauma events also produce triggered powerful stress responses which can mak any headache syndrome worse…

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  • By MimClaude

    EMDR was recently recommended to me by both neurologists and psychologists at a renowned Headache Center here in Pennsylvania for the treatment of Chronic Migraine. I have initially been a bit skeptical. I feel like I have tried EVERYTHING and the “it’s all in your mind” response that I’ve gotten in the past is crazy-making when I try so hard and can’t get rid of these migraines. Maybe I will try it after all! Why not?

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    • By Katie M. Golden Moderator

      @mimclaude
      I understand why you are skeptical and why you feel that these treatments suggest that it’s all in your head. Not true. EMDR and biofeedback are ways in which you can try to learn to control your pain. It’s part of a larger pain management plan. That plan could include medications to prevent migraine attacks, medication to abort attacks, painkillers and then what I think of as self-care, which includes therapies like EMDR and biofeedback.

      You’re right, there is no harm in trying! Let us know how you feel after trying it!
      -Katie
      Migraine.com Moderator

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  • By Allison

    Nancy, I’ve been treated with EMDR for Migraines by Dr. Steven Marcus (the person who developed and researched it and trained the man in Turkey who did the other research) and then when I was convinced it was solid, I went through the training as a professional, since I’m an LPC, trained in EMDR myself-how I found out about him. EMDR is sound, backed up by good science- used years for PTSD, lots of research to support it. He and others have been applying it to migraines almost a decade. The idea is that migraines are a trauma to the brain. Once you have a migraine, neural pathways get laid down for you to have more of them. Treatment includes how to reduce or eliminate migraine w/out meds in clinicians office with combination of head compressions, relaxation techniques and EMDR, then on-going work to reduce the trauma effects of having had the migraines to teach the brain it doesn’t have to have a migraine anymore. He has solid research done in an ER to back it up. He has done most of his trainings in Europe (more accepting of drug-free approaches)and has begun in recent years to train US clinicians. It’s not as well known because he doesn’t advertise. He doesn’t promise cures but he’s helped many of his patients. It helped me a lot, though I have occipital neuralgia too, and it doesn’t help with that so mine are reduced but not yet eliminated. You don’t have to have a trauma history for it to be helpful. His website is not his specialty 🙂 but you can get his contact info there if you are interested and he could refer you to someone in your area: http://www.drstevenmarcus.com/ (I’m not trying to drum up business for myself, my practice is full, I just want others to benefit from this) Allison

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  • By Kerrie Smyres Moderator

    I have done EMDR to work through the grief of chronic migraine. Tomorrow, I’m going to do it to work through the most emotionally traumatic migraine attacks I’ve had. There are certain attacks that still cause me to shudder when I think of them and I’m terrified of having such severe migraines again. This isn’t the kind of thing people normal thing of as a “trauma,” but it certainly has been traumatic for me.

    My therapist uses hand-held “buzzers” for EMDR, rather than relying on eye movement. This apparently has the same effect, but doesn’t involve moving the eyes, which makes me dizzy. If that’s an issue for you, you may want to look into EMDR that doesn’t focus on eye movement.

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