What you need to know about CBT for headache and migraine.

Do you suffer from frequent tension headaches or migraines? Are you limiting your activities and finding less enjoyment in life due to physical pain or fear of triggering a headache? Headaches and migraines can impact daily life and lead to isolation, avoidance of places or activities, and a limited lifestyle. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is one avenue of managing headache pain. It focuses on how you think, feel, and act when experiencing pain and how negative patterns can be changed. This approach is not always thought of when looking for solutions for headaches but has been shown to be affective in decreasing their severity and frequency. So how does it work?

CBT for Headache and Migraine

CBT works by identifying maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and actions when it comes to headache pain management. It helps prevent headaches and cope better with them when they do come up. The goal is to identify new coping strategies, decrease stress, and improve your overall emotional state. With CBT, you will learn to shift the way you think and feel about your experience, followed by behaviour changes to help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches or manage them more effectively.

What to Expect

A knowledgeable counsellor will guide you through CBT treatment for headaches. This includes identification of headache triggers, relaxation techniques tailored to your lifestyle and personality, pacing of activities to increase enjoyment, and challenging negative self-talk or maladaptive outlooks. You will be asked to examine possible

contributing factors to your headaches, keep a headache diary, or engage in other homework assignments designed to provide feedback on what is happening for you. Your counsellor will then use this data to create a collaborative plan for how to move forward.

Is CBT Treatment Right For Me?

CBT for headache diseases is recommended for clients with tension-type headaches or migraine who:

  • Have lifestyle factors that could be changed to improve headache, such as poor sleep, stress, inconsistent meals, high intake of alcohol or caffeine, or issues with medications.
  • Struggle with thought patterns such as thinking of worst-case scenarios when it comes to headache experiences or anticipatory anxiety of getting a headache.
  • Prefer non-pharmacological treatment or cannot take medications due to allergies, pregnancy, etc.

I still experience headaches. How will CBT help in the long-term?

CBT is not considered a cure for headaches or migraines. However, engagement in treatment has been found to decrease the impact they can have on daily life. CBT also helps you to engage fully in your routine without letting headaches keep you from doing what you love. You will learn to relate to the pain in a different way so it is not such a burden on your mind or body.

If you have been struggling with headaches or migraines, a CBT treatment method may be a good option for you. Please reach out to us for a free 15-minute consultation to learn more.

Written by Cat Zydyk


Grinberg, A.S., Marth, L.A., Manning, M., & Seng, E.K. (2021). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Headache Diseases: Therapist Manual. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/PAINMANAGEMENT/CBT_CP/docs/CBT-HA_BOOK_061621_complete_508.pdf

Migraine Canada. (2022). Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): I want to try it, how can I proceed? https://migrainecanada.org/posts/the-migraine-tree/branches/self-care-lifestyle/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt-i-want-to-try-it-how-can-i-proceed/