Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2005


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Paul Richer

Committee Member

Roger Brooke

Committee Member

Russell A. Walsh


embodiment, existential, health, migraine, perception, phenomenological


This study examined the structure of the migraine headache experience. Three adult participants were asked to give a written answer to the question: "Please describe a time you experienced a migraine headache. Please explain what was happening before the headache, during the headache and how it was resolved." The participants were then asked for an audio taped interview with the researcher, the purpose of which was to further explore unclear areas in the written response. The written response and audio taped interview comprised the data sets for phenomenological analysis. From the data from the three participants, a general narrative of the migraine experience was identified. The researcher attempted to understand the structural interrelationships of aspects of the phenomenon and also, by contextualizing themes in their relationships, to understand those themes that differed between participants.

Findings indicate that the experience of the migraine affected all aspects of the participants' lives, including embodiment of pain, self-understanding, relationships, perception, and the migraines' role as horizons for the individuals' experiences. The migraines affected embodiment, as the participants felt alienated from their bodies and affected directly by perceived causative agents. Additionally, the migraines changed the participants' understandings of themselves, understandings that changed over time depending on the amount of their lifetimes that were spent suffering with the experience. The migraines also altered relationships, as the headaches acted as isolating events that drew the participants into themselves and away from others in their lives. Moreover, the experience of perception transformed during a migraine to include not only perception of meaningful wholes, but also perception as a bombardment of the senses. Finally, findings indicate that, for these participants, the migraine was not lived as a punctuated episode, but continued in the form of possible horizons. Overall, although in some ways the participants experienced themselves as objects affected by perceived causes or barraged by sensations, existential implications remained embedded in the experience, and meaning infused the lived experience of the migraine. Findings further indicate that while there were similarities in the participants' experiences, there were differences as well in terms of the meaning each of them assigned to the migraine experience.

Research findings led to: a) a demonstration of the efficacy of a descriptive methodology in understanding, while in extreme pain, the phenomenon of human embodiment; b) a reinterpretation of the concept of bodily "dys-appearance" as introduced in the work of phenomenological philosopher Drew Leder; c) a furthering of the understanding of perception as a complex phenomenon that can involve both an intentional perception of a meaningful world, as emphasized by phenomenology, and an experience of sensory reception or "bombardment" in the migraine state; and d) a redefining of the concept of "episode" with respect to a migraine headache, as the headache is not clearly conceptualized as having a strict temporal progression.