Can EMDR Cause Headaches?

Written By

Dr. Azhar Qureshi

Updated:

Fact Checked

cartoon picture of man with beard and headphones in front of computer

Note: This post is supported by our readers and contains affiliate links, which will earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. Therapy Helpers does not accept money for reviews.

This article explores the connection between EMDR and headaches.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that can help people process traumatic memories. Some people report experiencing headaches after EMDR sessions.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro.

The goal of EMDR is to reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories by activating the brain’s natural healing mechanisms through bilateral stimulation, usually in the form of guided eye movements.

How EMDR Works

During EMDR sessions, clients focus on distressing memories while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus like tracking the therapist’s finger back and forth or listening to tones alternating between ears.

  • This dual attention activates the brain’s information processing system to reprocess the traumatic memories into an adaptive resolution.
  • Over time, the distress associated with the memories can be reduced or eliminated, which may include complex PTSD as the research is still ongoing.
patient and a doctor at a meeting

Can EMDR Cause Headaches?

Some people do report experiencing headaches after EMDR therapy sessions. There are a few potential reasons why this might occur:

Eye Strain

The most common cause of EMDR headaches is eye strain from the eye movements used during sessions.

  • Constantly moving the eyes back and forth taxes the eye muscles and can lead to tension and headaches afterward. This typically resolves on its own after some rest.

Emotional Release

Processing traumatic memories during EMDR can also trigger emotional releases which may manifest physically with headaches or migraines.

  • Releasing emotions requires muscular contractions in the face, neck, and shoulders that can cause headache pain.

Dehydration

Crying and perspiring are common physical manifestations during EMDR as suppressed emotions are accessed. This fluid loss combined with hyperventilation can also contribute to dehydration headaches.

  • Drinking plenty of water before and after EMDR sessions may help minimize headaches.

Sponsored, keeps our community free. Therapy Helpers does not accept money for reviews.

official betterhelp logo
Star Rating 4.5 Of 5

4.5 (6,513+) FROM TRUSTPILOT

Try BetterHelp

Fill out a brief questionnaire and get matched with an experienced therapist online in as little as 48 hours.

✓ Over 33K licensed professionals

✓ Financial aid available

✓ Subscriptions as low as $65/week, billed every four weeks

✓ Cancel plan or change therapist anytime

✓ 20% off your first month through Therapy Helpers

Tips to Prevent EMDR Headaches

There are a few things clients can try to prevent headaches during or after EMDR:

Remain Calm

Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing can help dial down muscle tension that contributes to headaches. Staying grounded when emotional material comes up will also help.

Take Breaks

It’s perfectly fine to ask the therapist for a break during the bilateral stimulation if eye strain or tension headaches start to occur.

Hydrate

Drinking water before, during, and after EMDR sessions can offset fluid loss from crying. Avoid caffeine which can exacerbate headaches.

Follow Up

Let your therapist know if you experience frequent or severe headaches so the EMDR process can be adjusted accordingly if needed. Consider taking an over-the-counter pain medication afterward, if recommended by your provider. Be sure to read our guide on when to avoid EMDR.

While EMDR headaches are common, there are ways to manage them. Paying attention to your body during sessions and employing relaxation techniques can go a long way toward preventing headaches from EMDR therapy.
EMDR Therapy Session

Looking for more mental health tips? Make sure to follow our Mental Health Board on Pinterest!

Recommended Insights:

Does Facebook Own Betterhelp

Does Facebook Own BetterHelp?

BetterHelp, the popular online therapy platform, is owned by Teladoc Health Inc., not Facebook, despite past controversies surrounding data sharing practices.
Sex Positive Therapy

Sex Positive Therapy: An Empowering Approach

Sex-positive therapy offers a non-judgmental space to explore and improve your relationship with sex, sexuality, and your body.
How To Stop Hypnosis

How to Stop Hypnosis

Discover effective strategies to break free from hypnosis, empowering you to regain control of your mind and consciousness.

About the author

Dr. Azhar Qureshi

Dr. Azhar Qureshi

As a physician and cardiologist, my training encompassed a comprehensive range of invasive and noninvasive procedures, providing extensive hands-on experience in echocardiography, cardiac stress testing, diagnostic catheterization, and coronary interventions. In addition, I developed skills in psychological assessments and formulating detailed case reports. This multifaceted training has equipped me with a strong foundation across cardiology, psychological studies, and documentation to support my medical research. I am passionate about medical writing and exchanging knowledge to help the global community. Social

Leave a Comment