Migraine Sufferers Find Relief in Artistic Expression
June 11, 2001 -- Eyes closed, hands covering her face, the
woman is clearly suffering -- the pain of her migraine preserved forever on
"Painting is a very powerful medium, a powerful tool to
express emotions," says Tiffany Slayburgh of Knoxville, Tenn. Two acrylic
works by Slayburgh won first place over 200 other entries in the Migraine
Masterpiece art contest sponsored by the National Headache Foundation. While
one of her paintings depicts the suffering, the second canvas gives hope --
"moving on with your life," she tells WebMD.
A migraine sufferer herself, Slayburgh has dealt with the
headaches for five years. Her mother has struggled for her own relief for
nearly a decade. Producing the paintings, she says, "was a wonderful way to
get relief ... to express the pain of the experience."
The pain, the nausea, the feeling that one's head is splitting
in half -- until you have had a migraine, it's difficult to comprehend the
agony that sufferers endure on a regular basis.
"You learn volumes from these paintings -- more than you
ever could from reading a stack of medical journals," says Randy Vick, MS,
chair of a master's degree program in art therapy at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago. Vick also helped judge the migraine art competition.
For the artist -- even for someone not trained in art --
finding expression in the visual arts can bring healing, says Vick. In fact, in
many healthcare settings, art has found a place as therapy. Migraine sufferers
are among those gaining some measure of relief through artistic expression.
"The essence of art therapy is to engage the patient in
learning something about himself, to explore the making of the art product as
well as the art process -- to find understanding of themselves in their
work," Vick tells WebMD.
The therapy often lies in the very process of making
art, he says. "The physical involvement and activity, the engagement of
head and hands together -- it is productive, freeing, illuminating."
Therapy, too, "can come from looking at form and color, thinking through
the narrative or story of the work."
"The beauty of art is that it can be so personal and
idiosyncratic," Vick tells WebMD.
He would like to see many more artists -- or could-be artists
-- enjoy expression and relaxation through drawing, painting.
Though psychological stress is not the only component to
migraine, it does contribute. So for many headache sufferers, "if you can
use art as a release of stress, it will help to some degree."
"It makes sense," says Panayiotis Mitsias, MD,
assistant professor of neurology at Case-Western Reserve University in
Cleveland, and director of the headache clinic at Henry Ford Hospital and
Health Sciences Center in Detroit.
"Essentially, [art therapy] is a behavior modification that
can have some influence on the ultimate frequency and severity of attacks,"
Mitsias tells WebMD. "Theoretically it could, anyway. I don't think it will
be a universal type of therapy ... not all migraines are triggered by