Treating IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) with Hypnotherapy
If you are reading this page then it is likely that you or someone you know suffers from IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – so you probably know most of the facts about this condition:
- There is no known cause of IBS
- Doctors diagnose it by ruling out what it isn’t
- There appear to be no generally effective treatments
- Drugs either work for a limited time, only on some individuals or are too expensive
- It has significant impact on quality of life and creates considerable anxiety and stress
- Most doctors really don’t know what to do with it
The good news is that hypnotherapy, relaxation training and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) have been shown to help alleviate symptoms considerably.
Hypnotherapy – proven helpful for IBS
In February 2008 the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), which gives guidance to the NHS on effective treatments, published guidance for GPs and consultants saying:
"Referral for psychological interventions (cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT], hypnotherapy
and/or psychological therapy) should be considered for people with IBS who do not respond
to pharmacological treatments after 12 months".
That guidance can be accessed here:
NICE Guidance for IBS Treatment - Quick Reference (PDF 169kb)
NICE Guidance for IBS Treatment - Full Guidance Notes (PDF 3.6MB)
Ask your GP to refer you for IBS hypnotherapy
In the UK research conducted by Professor Peter Whorwell of Manchester University has demonstrated high levels of effectiveness, helping all the symptoms of IBS – and those improvements being sustained over long periods of time.
In the United States hypnotherapy for IBS is listed as a treatment for IBS on the highly regarded Empirically Validated Treatments List (Chambless et al.) – which is roughly equivalent to the NICE guidelines in the UK.
See links at the bottom of the page for more research results.
How does it work?
Hypnotherapy for IBS seems to work by lowering the general level of anxiety, lowering the perception of pain and discomfort (which is related to anxiety) and also by directing positive images and suggestions to the gut.
The gut has it’s own separate nervous system – called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which has a full set of neurons and neurotransmitters normally found only in the brain itself. The ENS can function separately from the main central nervous system and is connected by special large nerve fibres to the brain. Thus it is possible that the bowel can be influenced by images and thoughts in the brain to a much greater extent than previously thought. It is also possible that the gut can swamp the brain with messages too.
Is Stress the cause of IBS?
No-one knows the cause of IBS.
However it is always useful to distinguish between what started a condition and why the condition continues.
People with IBS have a bowel that over-responds to stress (so instead of simply emptying the bowel when stressed it spasms) and also is hypersensitive and so the pain threshold is lowered.
In addition because of the symptoms and impact on quality of life sufferers usually pay a lot of attention to their tummy
It seems that while an infection or tummy upset might start the IBS condition – creating a bowel that over-reacts to stress and which has nerves that are oversensitive to that over-reaction – the symptoms of IBS are so stressful that IBS is a self-maintaining condition - i.e. a vicious circle of stress > increased stress response > greater perception of discomfort > more stress etc.
The key is lowering the stress response
So one of the key’s to dealing with IBS is lower our stress sensitivity and also reduce the perception of pain from the bowel thereby. Hypnotherapy has a history of remarkable effectiveness in lowering anxiety levels and also in pain reduction.
In many ways hypnotherapy is an ideal treatment for IBS. Firstly it is excellent at lowering stress and anxiety levels, both the general level of anxiety and also hypersensitivity to stressful situations. Secondly hypnotherapy is powerful and effective at pain reduction – very effectively removing the perception of pain.
Thirdly, because IBS is defined by it’s symptoms, if hypnotherapy can remove the symptoms then really you have treated the IBS.
How many treatments? What is involved?
There is an initial first session of 90 minutes followed by five one hour sessions spread over 12 weeks.
However if you want the support of weekly sessions that can be arranged as well.
During the session you will have the chance to dialogue about your condition and learn more about how your gut and brain work together. The hypnosis treatment in the session is very relaxing and pleasant.
You will take home a recording with instructions to listen to it once a day between sessions.
See your doctor first, then consider hypnotherapy for IBS
Although hypnotherapy has proven very effective IBS is still regarded as a medical condition. If you think you might have IBS then the first thing to do is visit your doctor to get their diagnosis and advice. Once you have established with the doctor that it is IBS and believe that hypnotherapy could help you then please contact me.
BBC: Kings College experts advise doctors to consider hypnosis for IBS
BBC: Hypnotherapy effective for IBS
BBC website: Hypnotherapy works for bowel pain
Researchers at Witherington Hospital in Manchester found hypnotherapy helped 71% of patients with IBS and the improvements lasted five years.
IBS Research - Manchester University, Professor Peter Whorwell
Research by Peter Whorwell, Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology in the University's Medical School showing hypnotherapy to be effective in over 70% of cases
"IBS is ideal for treatment with hypnosis, as there is no structural damage to the body," explained Professor Whorwell. "During the hypnotherapy, sufferers learn how to influence and gain control of their gut function, and then seem to be able to change the way the brain modulates their gut activity."
"We've found it to help all the symptoms, whereas some of the drugs available reduce only a few," he said