Barriers to Behavioral Treatment Adherence for Headache: An Examination of Attitudes, Beliefs, and Psychiatric Factors

Yuka Matsuzawa, Yuen Shan Christine Lee, Felicia Fraser, Donna Langenbahn, Amanda Shallcross, Scott Powers, Richard Lipton, Naomi Simon, Mia Minen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background/Objectives: Nonpharmacological interventions, such as biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques are Level-A evidence-based treatments for headache. The impact of these interventions is often equivalent to or greater than pharmacological interventions, with fewer side effects. Despite such evidence, the rate of participation in nonpharmacological interventions for headache remains low. Once obstacles to optimizing use of behavioral interventions, such as local access to nonpharmacological treatment and primary headache providers are traversed, identification of barriers contributing to low adherence is imperative given the high levels of disability and cost associated with treating headache disorders. In this review of factors in adults associated with underuse of nonpharmacological interventions, we discuss psychological factors relevant to participation in nonpharmacological treatment, including attitudes and beliefs, motivation for change, awareness of triggers, locus of control, self-efficacy, acceptance, coping styles, personality traits, and psychiatric comorbidities associated with treatment adherence. Finally, future prospects and approaches to optimizing treatment matching and minimizing adherence issues are addressed. Methods: An interdisciplinary team conducted this narrative review. Neuropsychologists conducted a literature search during the month of July 2017 using a combination of the keywords (“headache” or “migraine”) and (“adherence” or “compliance”) or “barriers to treatment” or various “psychological factors” discussed in this narrative review. Content experts, a psychiatrist, and a complementary and integrative health specialist provided additional commentary and input to this narrative review resulting in integration of additional noteworthy studies, book chapters and books. Results: Various psychological factors, such as attitudes and beliefs, lack of motivation, poor awareness of triggers, external locus of control, poor self-efficacy, low levels of acceptance, and engagement in maladaptive coping styles can contribute to nonadherence. Conclusions: To maximize adherence, clinicians can assess and address an individual’s level of treatment acceptance, beliefs that may present as barriers, readiness for change, locus of control, self-efficacy and psychiatric comorbidities. Identification of barriers to adherence as well as the application of relevant assessment and intervention techniques have the potential to facilitate adherence and ultimately improve treatment success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-31
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • barriers to adherence
  • headache
  • nonpharmacological interventions
  • psychological factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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