If you’re suffering from IBS you’ve likely tried many different things to get relief from your gut symptoms. This may have included the low fodmap diet, prescription medication and expensive supplements. But what about using hypnosis? Does gut directed hypnotherapy work for IBS? Could it help to reduce your symptoms of pain, constipation, diarrohea and bloating?

Well with almost 40 years of solid evidence behind it, gut directed hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms in more than 70-80% of people. That’s an impressive number, especially considering no single medication for IBS can claim to reduce symptoms to that extent. And all without side effects.

In fact, gut directed hypnotherapy for IBS has been shown to achieve similar results in reducing symptoms as the low FODMAP diet. This means that you can get the same level of relief without having to follow restrictive diets. No longer are your options limited to restricting your food choices, or relying on medication just to live your life and keep symptoms under control.

How effective is gut-directed hypnotherapy in people with IBS?

The use of gut directed hypnotherapy for IBS has been around for almost 40 years, and despite decades of solid evidence behind it, it’s still a relatively unknown approach. But does it work? Can hypnotherapy for IBS really work to reduce the gut symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

In this post I’ll be sharing with you the findings of 5 research studies carried out over the last 40 years. These studies all looked at whether gut directed hypnotherapy could reduce IBS symptoms, and if so, to what extent. My hope is that you no longer see your IBS as a life sentence, and start to realise that there is a way to manage your symptoms with long-term results.

So let’s have a closer look at what it can achieve and how it could work for you too!

But first, why use a mind gut approach to managing IBS?

You may be wondering at this point how hypnotherapy can be used to manage IBS, when hypnosis focuses on the mind. What does your mind have to do with your gut symptoms and IBS? This is a great question to ask.

IBS is what is known as a disorder of the gut-brain interaction (DGBI), which means that your gut and your brain aren’t communicating as they should. This means that there is no structural damage to your bowel and the issue is not physical.

This is one of the main reasons why IBS is so hard to diagnose and why sadly many doctors can be dismissive of your symptoms. Because despite experiencing gut pain, bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea, they are unable to find anything ‘’physically’’ wrong with you.

However, over the years we have discovered that functional bowel problems like IBS can be influenced by the mind through something called the gut-brain interaction or gut-brain connection.

What is your gut brain connection? Your brain-gut connection is the two-way communication highway linking your brain and gut together, and it’s how your brain and your gut communicate with each other.

When you experience IBS symptoms, what’s happening is that this communication highway is not working as it should – your brain and gut aren’t on the same page. There is a miscommunication between the two. Your brain is sending incorrect messages to your gut, and your gut is sending incorrect messages to your brain.

This is where gut directed hypnotherapy comes in, as it can be used to address this communication problem directly.

How does Gut Directed Hypnotherapy work for IBS?

Gut directed hypnotherapy for IBS works by teaching you the mental skills and techniques to develop control over the physiological mechanisms influencing your gut. These mechanisms are not normally under conscious control. 

Hypnotherapy also works to retrain how your brain reinterprets or ignores incoming sensory signals such as pain. This allows you to influence how much or how little pain, sensitivity, or discomfort you feel.

Since its development in the 1980’s, gut directed hypnotherapy has been successfully used to treat numerous functional bowel disorders including IBS. This includes helping those with severe symptoms who were unsuccessful with the traditional diet or medication approach.


Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome

Back in 1984, the earliest formal study of hypnosis for the treatment of IBS was undertaken. Even today this study remains one of the best, as it was thoroughly placebo-controlled, and showed dramatically greater improvement for those recovering hypnosis vs the placebo.

The study was made up of 30 patients all with severe IBS symptoms that had been unresponsive to other forms of treatment. The patients were randomly chosen to receive either 7 sessions of hypnotherapy or 7 sessions of psychotherapy plus placebo pills.

After the participants had completed their sessions, their symptoms were reassessed. The psychotherapy group showed a small but significant improvement in abdominal pain and distension (meaning visible bloating), and an improvement in general well-being. However, they did not see an improvement in their bowel activity.

The hypnotherapy patient group however showed a dramatic improvement in all IBS symptoms. This group also showed no relapses during the 3-month follow-up period.

You can read more about this study here.


”Symptomatology, quality of life and economic features of irritable bowel syndrome–the effect of hypnotherapy”

In 1996 a study was set up to quantify the effects of severe IBS on quality of life and ”economic functioning”, and to assess the impact of hypnotherapy on these features. The study compared 25 severe IBS patients treated with hypnosis to 25 patients with similar symptom severity treated with other methods.

The results from this study speak for themselves.

The hypnotherapy group reported less severe abdominal pain, bloating, bowel habits, nausea, gas, urinary symptoms, fatigue, and back pain compared with control patients.

In addition to significant improvement in all IBS symptoms, hypnotherapy recipients also had fewer visits to doctors, lost less time from work than the control group, and rated their quality of life as ‘’more improved’’. In fact, those patients who had been unable to work prior to treatment resumed employment in the hypnotherapy group, but not in the control group. 

You can read more about this study here.


”Long term benefits of hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome

The next study I want to take you through was completed 6 years later in 2003. In this study 204 IBS patients were treated with a course of hypnotherapy and were asked to complete questionnaires about symptoms, quality of life, anxiety, and depression.

The participants completed this questionnaire before, immediately after, and up to six years following the treatment. 

Of all the treated patients, 71% showed improvement in response to treatment initially. And of those, 81% were still fully improved when re-contacted up to five years later.

Quality of life and anxiety or depression scores were also still significantly improved at follow-up. Patients also reported fewer doctor visits and less medication use long-term after hypnosis treatment. 

These results indicate that for most patients the benefits from hypnotherapy last at least five years.

You can read more about this study here.


“Intestinal Microbiome in Irritable Bowel Syndrome before and after Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy”

In 2018 a slightly different type of study. It looked at whether the composition of gut bacteria (otherwise known as your microbiome) in the bowels of IBS patients changes after hypnotherapy. 

In this study, 38 IBS patients of all IBS subtypes were treated with 10 weekly group sessions of gut directed hypnotherapy.  Stool samples were collected before and after treatment for analysis of their gut bacteria.

What were the results? On average, bowel symptoms were significantly reduced after patients had received hypnosis treatment. Their psychological distress and well-being had also improved significantly. In fact, adequate relief of IBS symptoms was reported by 84% of the patients after hypnosis. 

However, interestingly no significant changes were found in intestinal gut microbiota composition.

The findings of this novel study suggest, perhaps not surprisingly, that hypnosis improves IBS mostly via effects that are relatively independent of microbiota composition – most likely, through alterations in the central nervous system’s control of the gut. This is fascinating because it challenges the way you think about having to use restrictive diets, medications, and supplements to create improvements in IBS symptoms.

In fact, this study demonstrates that gut directed hypnotherapy works independently from diet.

You can read more about this study here.

This key outtake is further highlighted in the next IBS research study which compared hypnosis with the low fodmap diet.


”Randomised clinical trial: the efficacy of gut-directed hypnotherapy is similar to that of the low FODMAP diet for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome”

In 2016 a study was set up to compare the effects of gut-directed hypnotherapy to the low FODMAP diet.  This randomized controlled trial took place over 6 weeks. 74 patients with moderate irritable bowel syndrome were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups:

  • Group 1 was the Hypnotherapy group where 25 patients received six weekly 1-hour sessions by a trained hypnotherapist. Audio recordings of hypnotherapy were provided, and patients were asked to listen to them daily.
  • Group 2 was the Diet group where 24 patients strictly followed the low-FODMAP diet, eliminating foods known to cause IBS. A qualified dietitian provided instruction, and adherence was monitored by regular phone calls.
  • Group 3 was a combined hypnosis and diet group where 25 patients received both of treatments.

With so many sufferers of IBS believing that their only options are taking long-term medication with side effects or restrictive and stressful diets, the results of this study could be life-changing. What the researchers found was that hypnotherapy had the same effect as the low fodmap diet for alleviating gastrointestinal symptoms.

In both groups, 70% of patients improved in a range of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping and pain. They also improved in quality of life. These benefits were maintained at the six months follow-up after treatment.

It is interesting to point out that combining dietary intervention and hypnotherapy did not benefit patients more than individual treatments. This was surprising since the two treatments were believed to act via different mechanisms, and so effects were expected to add to one another.

This study also found, not surprisingly, that hypnotherapy was also associated with psychological benefits. Patients were less anxious and depressed in this group, but not in the low-FODMAP group.

These findings agree with data from other clinical trials and support the value of hypnotherapy for treating IBS.

You can read more about this study here.

So does Gut Directed Hypnotherapy work for IBS?

If you suffer from IBS, these studies bring good news. They show that hypnotherapy is both effective and that IBS can be managed without needing to change what you eat. 

In fact, a six-week course of hypnotherapy improved symptoms in 70% of patients regardless of hypnotic susceptibility.

If you have struggled with dietary treatments or found little benefit from them, hypnotherapy is a great alternative. In fact, this is exactly how I work with my clients who are suffering with IBS inside of my gut directed hypnotherapy program – The Calm Gut Program.

I’m here to help you

If you’d like to explore whether hypnotherapy for IBS and my Calm Gut Program is the right approach for you, then book a free 30 minute consultation. With almost 40 years of solid evidence behind it, gut directed hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms in more than 70-80% of people. In this free 30 minute call, we will discuss:

  • Your current IBS symptoms, health history and challenges you’re experiencing
  • What you’ve already tried to get relief from IBS and why you’re still stuck
  • How hypnosis for IBS (also known as gut directed hypnotherapy) works and determine a program of therapy going forward.

If you have any questions before booking this call, you can contact me here.

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