Can hypnotherapy really help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
When I talk about hypnotherapy people are often surprised when I say that hypnosis can help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But is this really so surprising?
Have you ever experienced the sensation of “butterflies” in the tummy area – perhaps before an important exam, interview, presentation or performance of some kind? Perhaps you’re familiar with a churning sensation in your stomach as your boss gives you yet more responsibilities on top of your already stressful workload? Have you felt your stomach lurch when you’ve had to respond quickly to a dangerous situation while driving?
This sensation is a result of the “fight or flight” anxiety response; in situations we perceive as threatening in some way, blood is diverted away from the digestive system towards the muscles – basically getting ready to fight or run – which is undoubtedly very helpful if you’re being faced by an aggressor, but not so helpful when you’re about to sit an exam or make an important phone call. The digestive system is extremely sensitive to fluctuations in our emotional state; in fact the gut is increasingly being referred to as our “second brain” as the two are so closely interlinked. Prolonged periods of stress or anxiety commonly affect the digestive system, resulting in either diarrhoea or constipation (or alternate bouts of both), bloating, painful cramps and so on. Even our language reflects how emotions and the digestive system are interlinked, for example, “my gut feeling is…”
So if our thoughts, feelings and imagination (as we run through future events in our mind) can have such a negative impact on our digestive system, does it not make sense that, when directed appropriately, our thoughts, feelings and imagination can have a positive influence on the digestive system?
Yet this is not a one way street; recent research shows that the reverse is also true. An imbalance in the gut seems to be related to mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Stress, anxiety and depression are extremely common in those who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome. While stress itself does not actually cause IBS, it does appear to be a major aggravating factor.
There has been a significant amount of research conducted regarding hypnotherapy & irritable bowel syndrome with very positive results. For example, a 2002 study involved 42 patients who participated in 7 sessions of hypnotherapy. All central symptoms of IBS improved for all patients and this improvement was maintained at a 10 month follow-up review. This study was led by Professor Olaf Palsson, from the University of North Carolina, who is one of the leading researchers in this field.
It’s clear from the research that disorders of the gut can no longer be treated independently of the mind, and vice versa. If you’re interested in finding out more about IBS/hypnotherapy research please get in touch with me and I’ll provide you with an overview of some of the major articles and point you in the right direction for further information.
Here’s what one of my clients had to say after a course of hypnotherapy:
As this client suggests hypnotherapy is not a cure for irritable bowel syndrome but you will learn skills that can help you permanently manage your symptoms. The techniques taught generally include relaxation skills training, self hypnosis, gut directed imagery, together with positive thinking.