If you’re struggling with IBS then it’s likely you’ve come across gut directed hypnotherapy as a way of taking control of your symptoms. Because hypnotherapy to help IBS is fast becoming one of the most promising new techniques for helping you to manage not only IBS gut symptoms but the anxiety that often goes hand in hand.
But what is it and how exactly does it work? How can your mind change what happens inside of your gut?
Well if you’re looking to explore how hypnotherapy for IBS can help you and what’s involved in a program of gut directed hypnotherapy, then keep reading as I’m going to explain everything!
Hypnotherapy to help IBS is not new
I’ve been working with clients online from all around the world using gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT for about 4 years now. And very often when clients reach out to me, they are pretty desperate and hypnotherapy is really the last resort for them.
They may have heard about hypnosis to help manage IBS from their gastroenterologist, or doctor, or they’ve been online and googled and found the myriad of research and clinical studies supporting it’s use. In fact gut directed hypnotherapy was first used almost 40 years ago, so whilst it’s not new, it’s been a very well kept secret, which thankfully is now going more and more mainstream.
But what is hypnotherapy to help treat IBS?
Before I explain what gut directed hypnotherapy is and why it’s so effective for helping to improve IBS, we need to take a step back and ask the bigger question. What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a state of focused attention and what is called heightened suggestibility. It’s a completely natural state and one where your mind is more responsive to suggestion. This means that when you are in hypnosis you are able to accept suggestions given to you more easily or more deeply than normal. And a suggestion is really an invitation to experience the world differently.
When working with IBS symptoms, suggestions may include asking you to imagine your gastrointestinal tract as a smooth flowing river with no obstacles or delays.
So to go back to the question of ‘what is hypnotherapy?’, it’s about using the state of hypnosis in a therapeutic way, and gut directed hypnotherapy is specifically designed to treat functional gut disorders like IBS.
So whether you work with a gut directed hypnotherapist such as myself or you use a self-hypnosis audio, the suggestions you hear will specifically target the functioning of your gut so that it can begin to work smoothly, consistently and collaboratively with the rest of the body.
So how exactly does it work to treat IBS symptoms?
Well we actually don’t fully understand how it works, but according to researchers, it’s believed that by entering into a deeply relaxed and focused state (the state of hypnosis), your brain becomes open to suggestions on how to better communicate with your gut to improve symptoms.
It does this by directly influencing your nervous system and leveraging the brain’s ability to bring under voluntary control processes in the body which seem, initially, to be outside of your control such as changes within your digestive system.
This approach targets the miscommunication between the brain and gut which seems to play a large role in several gastrointestinal issues, including IBS. You can read more about the brain gut connection in IBS in this post: Is a Faulty Gut Brain Connection Causing Your IBS?
Hypnotherapy can also help to regulate the HPA-axis and relieve stress, which is one of the major triggers of IBS. Often with IBS you worry about having a flare-up, or are anxious about the symptoms of a flare-up. This stress in itself can make symptoms worse, so by reducing the stress levels inside of the body using hypnosis, you are helping to break this stress-symptom cycle.
So whilst we don’t understand the exact science of how hypnosis works for IBS, we can absolutely see the evidence of what it can do.
And this includes reducing IBS gut symptoms in two main ways. Firstly by improving motility – which is the speed of food as it moves down through your digestive tract, and secondly it can reduce sensitivity inside your gut.
In addition to helping with GI symptoms it can also help to reduce levels of stress inside of the body, decrease anxiety and depression and improve your quality of life.
But what does the research say?
Well the research is pretty incredible, and in 2019 nearly 30 studies on gut-directed hypnotherapy over the last 30 years were reviewed. On average a symptom reduction of over 70-80% was seen, along with improvements to quality of life, and a decrease in anxiety and depression. It’s also been shown to be as effective as the low fodmap diet, which is pretty exciting, because it means you can reduce your IBS symptoms without having to follow restrictive and stressful diets. What’s more, the improvements achieved by undertaking a program of gut directed hypnotherapy have been found to be last, with the longest current study showing improvements lasting for 5 years.
In fact inside of my own online clinic I frequently see symptom improvement above this level. I also work with my clients to rebuild trust and confidence in their bodies, feel good about meal times and reintroducing different foods, and help them get back living their lives – whether this is going on holiday, eating out with friends or being able to travel on public transport again.
And as I final point on its effectiveness the American Gastroenterological Association actually recommends the use of gut directed hypnotherapy for patients early in the course of managing symptoms, and not saved as a as a ‘last ditch’ treatment option.
So now you know what gut directed hypnotherapy is and you know it can help reduce your symptoms, what actually happens inside of a session?
Inside a session of gut directed hypnotherapy
Inside of The Calm Gut IBS Program I see clients over 6 sessions, and each session is a combination of hypnosis, cognitive behavoural therapy and coaching. During the hypnotherapy part of the session (which typicaly lasts for about 30 minutes) I use hypnotic suggestions which are tailored to your specific symptoms and concerns.
So for example, if you have problems with gut motility (whether that’s showing up as constipation and/or diarrohea) suggestions will be given that focus on the rhythm and flow of your digestion. And if pain is a dominating symptom for you, then suggestions will be included that focus on soothing and protective changes inside of your bowel.
Suggestions are also given that reinforce positive changes and your ability to gain control over how your bowel functions. These suggestions could include continuing to get better and better hour by hour, day by day and remaining free from any discomfort, irritation or sensations that bother you.
So I hope by this point you have a good idea of what’s involved, but you may be wondering how long it takes to experience results?
How long until hypnotherapy reduces your IBS symptoms?
Many of the research studies followed a program of hypnotherapy which lasted between 6 to 10 sessions. Inside of The Calm Gut IBS program I see clients over 6 sessions and whilst everyone responds differently, many of my clients do experience a noticeable improvement after just 3 sessions.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different and will respond in their own way. Occasionally some clients may require extra sessions to achieve symptom reduction. Research also shows that not everyone will respond to gut directed hypnotherapy, which is just one of the reasons why I integrate cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) into all of my sessions with clients.
So I hope this post was helpful, and I hope it’s answered many of the questions you had, but if you do have further questions about hypnotherapy for IBS and The Calm Gut Program then you can get in touch here.
So that’s it for this post, and if you’re wanting to learn more about how gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT can help you take back control of your IBS, then you might like to read: Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for IBS reduce symptoms?