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.

Can EMDR Cause Headaches?

patient and a doctor at a meeting

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.

Ad, keeps our community free. The perspectives presented on this website are genuinely our own and we do not accept money for reviews.

betterhelp logo
review

4.5 (7,344+) FROM TRUSTPILOT

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

✓ Over 35K 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.

YouTube video
EMDR Therapy Session

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

Recommended Insights:

A serene room with a comfortable chair, soft lighting, and calming decor. A therapist guides a client through relaxation techniques and positive affirmations

Hypnotherapy for OCD: Is It Effective?

Discover how hypnotherapy can offer a transformative approach to managing OCD, providing relief and empowering individuals to reclaim control over their lives.
A laptop sits open on a cluttered desk, displaying a video call with a therapist. A globe and travel souvenirs surround it, hinting at the expat's struggle for identity

Expat Identity Crisis: Navigating Self-Discovery with Therapy

Discover how therapy can help expatriates navigate the complexities of self-identity and find a sense of belonging in foreign lands.
A laptop displaying a video call between two people in different time zones. A world map in the background symbolizes distance. A therapist's office setting with calming decor

Mental Health for Expats: Maintaining Long-Distance Relationships

Expats navigating long-distance relationships can find essential support and strategies through online therapy to maintain their mental health and strengthen their emotional connections despite the miles apart.

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

2 thoughts on “Can EMDR Cause Headaches?”

  1. I’ve been doing EMDR therapy for PTSD and it’s been incredibly helpful for my symptoms. However, I’ve noticed that I sometimes get headaches after the sessions, which can be intense. This article confirmed that headaches can be a side effect of EMDR, especially in the beginning. It explained that the headaches are likely due to the brain processing and integrating the traumatic memories in a new way. My therapist mentioned the possibility of headaches and said they are usually temporary. She encouraged me to stay hydrated, rest after sessions, and use relaxation techniques.

    Overall, while the headaches can be uncomfortable, they haven’t been bad enough to make me stop EMDR. The benefits of the therapy have far outweighed this temporary side effect for me. I’m glad this article addressed the issue head-on (no pun intended)

    Reply
  2. I recently started EMDR therapy to process some traumatic experiences from my past. While I’ve found the sessions to be emotionally intense yet helpful overall, I noticed that I’ve been getting headaches more frequently since beginning treatment. This article helped explain why that might be happening. According to the author, headaches are a relatively common side effect reported by some people undergoing EMDR therapy. They suggest that the headaches may be due to the mental and emotional exertion involved in processing traumatic memories, or perhaps related to the rapid eye movements themselves.

    It was reassuring to learn that for most people, these headaches are temporary and tend to subside as therapy progresses. The article offered some practical tips like staying hydrated, getting enough rest, and discussing any persistent headaches with your therapist or doctor. I appreciated that the article emphasized the importance of weighing potential side effects like headaches against the proven benefits of EMDR for treating trauma and PTSD. No treatment is risk-free, but the author argues that for many trauma survivors, some temporary discomfort may be worth the long-term relief and healing that EMDR can provide.

    As someone who has experienced some headaches with EMDR, I found this article to be informative and validating. It’s helped me feel more prepared to manage this side effect and remain committed to the therapy process. I would have liked to see more specific data on how common EMDR-related headaches are, but overall this was a helpful read.

    Reply

Leave a Comment