Migraine is a neurological condition associated with severe, debilitating headaches. Several treatments may help to prevent migraine attacks, including psychotherapy.

Treatments focus on providing acute care for pain and other symptoms and preventive care to reduce the number of migraine attacks a person experiences.

Psychotherapy, which people may also call talk therapy, may have a potentially beneficial effect on people who experience migraine attacks. There are different types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy.

A doctor or mental health professional may recommend a person living with migraine try psychotherapy as a complementary therapy to reduce pain and improve quality of life.

This article reviews how psychotherapy may help with migraine, other types of migraine treatment, and when to speak with a doctor.

Headache and migraine resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for headaches and migraine, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?
A person holding a cold compress over their forehead while sitting down 1Share on Pinterest
Getty Images

During a psychotherapy session, a person speaks with a therapist who may help a person change their thinking and behavior patterns or better understand and regulate their emotions. However, there are different types of psychotherapy and the goals of therapy vary between each individual.

Psychotherapy may help with migraine prevention. It falls under a category of behavioral treatment that research suggests may help with the severity and frequency of attacks.

Researchers have examined how psychotherapy may play a role in migraine treatment.

In a 2016 review of studies, researchers investigated over 20 studies looking at the role of therapy on migraine. They found that 15 of the studies reported significant headache improvements ranging from 20–67% following psychological intervention. Many studies also reported improvements in psychological outcomes.

The researchers concluded that evidence supports the use of psychotherapy in migraine management, but they also suggested that additional research is necessary.

In a 2022 review of studies, researchers looked for studies that evaluated the effect of CBT on migraine symptoms. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that may help a person to change their thinking patterns and behavior.

After reviewing 20 databases, researchers found 11 studies that fit their criteria. They reported that the studies showed a significant reduction in both headache frequency and Migraine Disability Assessment (MIDAS) scores.

MIDAS helps a person or healthcare professional working with them assess the impact of migraine on their overall life. Lower scores imply that a person’s overall quality of life has improved with CBT.

Still, the researchers suggested that future randomized controlled studies look further into how CBT may help with migraine.

The American Migraine Foundation notes that people who use CBT, relaxation techniques, or biofeedback therapy have an average of 30–60% fewer headaches following the start of these treatments.

They note that one possible reason for this is the reduction of stress, which is one of the most common triggers of headaches. Stress may also cause a person to experience worse pain that lasts for longer. Psychotherapy may help a person manage stress, which in turn may help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

Psychotherapy may also help people living with depression and anxiety. Similar to stress, these conditions may make migraine attacks more frequent. Psychotherapy may also help improve a person’s anxiety and depression, which may positively impact their migraine.

Migraine treatment focuses on treating acute migraine attacks and preventing future attacks. The following sections contain some common treatments for both acute attacks and long-term management.

Immediate steps

A person may find that taking some steps or making changes to their day at the start of a migraine attack may help reduce its severity and shorten its duration. Some tips that may help include:

  • resting in a dark, quiet room
  • drinking more fluids, like water, especially if a person is vomiting
  • using a cold compress on the head

Medications to treat acute symptoms

Several medications may help with treating migraine flares. A doctor may recommend a person start with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

If these do not work, triptans may help. These medications work by binding to certain serotonin receptors, causing blood vessels to constrict. However, this makes them unsafe for people with:

If a person is taking any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), they should speak with a healthcare professional about the potential risks of combining these medications with triptans.

Experts advise that doctors should monitor people taking triptans alone or in combination with SSRIs or SNRIs for serotonin syndrome.

People who cannot take triptans or who do not find that two or more work for them may find newer medications like calcitonin gene-related peptide antagonists and selective serotonin receptor agonists are helpful.

Certain devices that apply electrical or magnetic stimulation of the head may also help with migraine pain.

A doctor may also recommend anti-nausea medications if a person experiences queasiness during a migraine attack.

Maintenance treatments

Maintenance treatments help to prevent migraine headaches from occurring. They may include medications or electrical stimulation.

Some types of medications that may work for prevention include:

A person should consider speaking with a doctor if they experience frequent or debilitating migraine attacks. They may also want to discuss any changes in symptoms or severity with a doctor.

A healthcare professional may be able to recommend different treatment options that may work better for someone. They may also be able to recommend local clinical trials for a person to participate in.

Therapy for migraine may help a person with the severity of their migraine attacks.

Psychotherapies, such as CBT, may help them to manage stress, anxiety, and depression, which may also help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Psychotherapy may also help reduce the amount of pain a person experiences during a migraine attack.

In addition to psychotherapy, a person may benefit from taking medications to either treat pain or prevent a migraine headache. A healthcare professional can help find a combination of medication and other therapies that work well for a person.