Hypnotherapy in Managing IBS Gut Symptoms and Anxiety

If you fall into the 15-20% of the population who suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you will know firsthand how debilitating and painful symptoms can be. As a chronic gastrointestinal condition, GI issues can include diarrhoea, constipation, cramping, gas, pain and bloating.

And that's not all. Non GI symptoms can include back pain, fatigue, migraines, anxiety, depression and affect your confidence and self-esteem. 

Unfortunately,  the traditional treatment approaches for IBS such as diets and medications only offer relief for 25% of people. And even if you do see a reduction in symptoms, restrictive diets and ongoing medication can feel incredibly stressful and overwhelming. It's also not uncommon to experience increased sensitivity to foods which you consider 'safe' - meaning your choices get smaller and smaller.

But there is another approach. And this approach is IBS hypnotherapy.

Whilst the use of hypnotherapy to reduce IBS symptoms may appear to be a new approach, it's actually been around for almost 40 years. Together with a wealth of clinical research studies suporting it's use, and an average success rate of over 70%, it's now quickly gaining attention. And rightfully so. Hypnotherapy for IBS has been shown to not only reduce gut symptoms such as bloating, gas and irregular bowel habits, it's also been shown to decrease anxiety and depression, and improve the quality of your life. This means you can get back to doing what you love and living your life again on your terms – not your bowels.

IBS hypnotherapy, also known as gut-directed hypnotherapy or gut focused therapy is a specific type of psychotherapy used to reduce IBS symptoms. Whether you are suffering with constipation dominant IBS, or diarrhoea dominant IBS, it work's to normalise the speed of your bowel, in addition to reducing bloating, gas and painful abdominal cramps. 

Since the first clinical trial in the early 1980's, it is now a well-tested therapeutic approach, and has been shown in many clinical research studies to reduce IBS symptoms by as much as 70-80%. What’s more, the improvements achieved by undertaking a program of IBS hypnotherapy have been found to be long lasting, with the longest current study showing improvements lasting for 5 years.

You can learn more about the success of hypnotherapy in treating IBS in this summary of clinical research.

What is Hypnotherapy for IBS?

To understand how hypnotherapy for IBS works and why it is so effective for reducing IBS symptoms, you first need to understand the underlying reason for what's going on inside of your gut. And this is due to a miscommunication happening between your gut and your brain. This is why IBS is known as a disorder of the gut-brain interaction (DGBI).

You can learn more about the connection between your gut and your brain, and the role it plays in IBS in this article: Your IBS Symptoms and The Brain Gut Connection.

But simply speaking there is a two-way flow of information happening between your brain (your central nervous system) and your gastrointestinal tract via a superhighway of nerve fibres called the vagus nerve.

When this flow of information gets disrupted, the communication between your gut and brain malfunctions resulting in incorrect messages being sent between the two. When this happens, IBS symptoms can develop such as gut pain, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and gas. The main two issues which develop when this information flow or gut-brain connection becomes ''faulty'' are:

How Does Hypnosis Work to Reduce IBS Symptoms?

The bowel can become overly sensitive to normal sensations such as gas or fullness and misinterprets stimuli inside of your bowel as pain. This happens because the nerves inside of your gut have become hyper alert, signalling pain and discomfort when they might not need to. Your brain can also amplify these signals, leading to increased perceived levels of pain.

01. Visceral Hypersensitivity

The movement of food inside your bowel can become irregular resulting in constipation, diarrhoea, or a mixture of the two. This irregular movement can also increase  pressure inside of your GI tract causing further pain. Motility issues and uncoordinated and uncontrolled movement inside of the bowel are also the reason behind painful gut spasms.

02. Altered Bowel Motility

The good news is that you can ''fix'' this communication happening inside of your nervous system. By using Hypnotherapy you can directly influence your nervous system and leverage 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.  Hypnotherapy can also enhance and strengthen the ''faulty'' gut-brain connection which is responsible for triggering those painful and debilitating gut symptoms. 

And that's not all. Hypnotherapy can also help to regulate the HPA-axis and relieve stress, which is one of the major triggers of IBS. Often people with IBS 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.

How Successful is Hypnotherapy for IBS?

In 2019 nearly 30 studies on gut-directed hypnotherapy over the last 30 years were reviewed. This review found that majority of studies showed that IBS hypnotherapy significantly improved bowel symptoms, and in many cases, the associated quality of life and emotional symptoms.

Due to the effectiveness of hypnosis for IBS the American Gastroenterological Association 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.

More recent IBS research studies from Monash University continue to support the use of hypnosis in the treatment and management of IBS, with results so positive that even the researchers were surprised. These results showed that hypnotherapy used specifically to address IBS reduced gut symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating and nausea by up to 72%. Incredibly these results showed that hypnotherapy was as beneficial as the low FODMAP diet. This means that you can get the same level of symptom control without having to change what you eat, or following stressful and restrictive diets.

There are many research studies showing the success of using hypnotherapy for IBS, and you can view additional IBS hypnosis research studies here.

What Does a Hypnotherapy Session for IBS Feel Like?

If you are new to hypnotherapy you may be unsure about what to expect. Perhaps you have seen stage shows or heard stories about hypnosis? So let me reassure you that there is nothing strange about it. In fact the state of hypnosis is a completely natural and normal state for your mind to enter into. You can learn more about hypnosis, together with some common myths and FAQs here.

Inside of The Calm Gut IBS Program, you will experience a combination of hypnosis, cognitive behavoural therapy (CBT), and coaching. 

Hypnotherapy is included in every session and lasts for around 25 minutes. During these one-to-one hypnotherapy sessions, hypnotic suggestions are used and are tailored to  your specific symptoms and concerns. For example, if you have problems with gut motility (e.g. constipation and/or diarrohea), suggestions will be given that focus on the rhythm and flow of your digestion. Similarly, if pain is a dominating symptom for you, suggestions will be included that focus on soothing and protective changes happening inside of your bowel.

After each hypnotherapy session you will be asked to listen to a support hypnosis recording. Support recordings play an important role, and help to reinforce the positive changes you are making inside of your gastrointestinal tract. In the beginning, these recording also get you used to my voice and the way in which I work with you in hypnosis.

When you experience hypnotherapy as part of a session, you can expect to experience 3 different stages. These are:

This stage is called hypnotic induction. During this stage, you’ll be guided through a full body relaxation exercise with your eyes closed, and gently be induced into a focused state of relaxed and absorbed attention. This is the state of hypnosis.

Next you will be guided into a visualization exercise. This will help your mind focus on what’s happening in your gut. Types of imagery used could include imagining your gut as a free-flowing stream with no obstructions or obstacles.

The final stage involves focusing in on suggestions. For example, focusing on the positive changes happening inside your gut, and your ability to gain control over how your bowel functions. These suggestions could include remaining free of any discomfort or irritation.

stage 01

stage 02

stage 03

How Long Does it Take to Reduce IBS Symptoms?

Whilst everyone responds differently, many of my clients experience a noticeable improvement after just 3 sessions. This can be achieved even for clients who have been suffering for decades. Improvements include not just a reduction in gut symptoms, but also a decrease in anxiety and worry. Clients also start to regain confidence in how their body functions, and start to rebuild trust in the signals their GI tract is sending to them. 

However, it's important to keep in mind that everyone is different and will respond in their own way. Occasionally some clients may require more than the 6 sessions included in The Calm Gut IBS Program to achieve symptom reduction. Research also shows that not everyone will respond to gut directed hypnotherapy, which is one reason why I integrate Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) into all client sessions. This helps those working with me inside The Calm Gut IBS Program to achieve a positive outcome.

Is Hypnotherapy the Right Approach for Your IBS?

If you are currently suffering with the debilitating IBS symptoms and are still struggling to control your bowel then IBS hypnotherapy is a safe and highly effective approach. And the good news is that almost anyone experiencing IBS symptoms may try hypnotherapy for IBS, also known as gut-focused, or gut-directed hypnotherapy.

So how do  you  know if this approach is the right next step for you? I invite you to book in for a free 30 minute consultation together. In this online consultation you will be able to ask all of the questions that you have about hypnosis for IBS, and obtain some advice about whether this managament approach is the right one for you. During this free call we will also discuss your current IBS symptoms, health history and the challenges you are experiencing.

You can book a free 30 minute consultation by clicking here.

It's also important to keep in mind the following before starting a program of hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome:

1. Ensure you have an IBS diagnosis from your doctor or health care professional. This is because many symptoms of IBS can overlap with those caused by more serious diseases or conditions. Self-diagnosing IBS and managing your symptoms without medical advice may potentially mean that a more serious, life-threatening condition is missed or masked by the use of self-directed treatments.

2. There are also certain contraindications for hypnosis. While it is generally understood to be an exceptionally safe practice, hypnotherapy may not be appropriate for people with the following: Schizophrenia, Pathological personality disorder, Dissociative identity disorder, Major depressive disorder, Suicidal behaviour disorder, Bipolar disorder, Alcohol or drug psychosis, Dementia, Narcolepsy, Epilepsy, Major heart conditions, Pregnancy during the first trimester.

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