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Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Irritable bowel syndrome, known as IBS, is one of the most common digestive problems in the population. It affects up to 20% of people in their lifetime and tends to be a long-term condition. People with IBS find it upsetting, uncomfortable and often embarrassing.

Blue knotted rope.

IBS is a collection of symptoms, rather than a specific condition. Symptoms vary but can include abdominal pain, cramp and distention, constipation or diarrhoea. The unpredictability of the condition can cause anxiety and low mood, affecting other areas of life. Symptoms may be mild or severe enough to be life altering.

Those with IBS often undertake a battery of medical tests to rule out other conditions such as appendicitis, gynaecological disorders or inflammatory bowel disease. GPs, short of time and often lacking access to integrative treatments, often focus on one symptom and recommend medication to counteract those particular symptoms, rather than on the IBS as a whole. IBS is a collection of symptoms, rather than recommend medication to counteract gut symptoms.

A wide range of medication can be prescribed depending on the individual’s symptoms. Treatment may include peppermint oil-based products that sooth bloating and urgency, antispasmodics (which help with cramps), antidepressants (which reduce pain intensity signals from the gut to the brain), and antibiotics that reduce the overgrowth of gut bacteria. Every case is different. Some also respond to dietary changes such as a reduction in high gas foods, carbohydrates known as FODMAPs, or gluten.

Razor wire.

Essentially, the test for IBS is the elimination of other conditions. If you continue to have symptoms but are not diagnosed with a cause, the chances are you have IBS.

Emotional triggers may make IBS worse and tend to have a cyclical effect; a bad bout of IBS may cause anxiety about when the next spell may occur (will the individual be at an important meeting at work, out in the country away from facilities, or in a social situation? Such anxiety, which may be unconscious, can cause the body to respond inappropriately, sparking IBS symptoms and further worry. Similarly, problems outside the condition itself – family, relationship or work problems, may cause a flare up.

Hypnotherapists will work with clients to identify trigger events and thoughts and use a variety of techniques to reduce anxiety and enable the body to function normally. It is important to note that bodily symptoms that are affected by the unconscious should not be described as ‘all in the mind’. That simplifies the situation and implies that symptoms are under the control of the individual who simply needs to enforce some kind of discipline on them. However, the unconscious mind works independently of our conscious mind, perceiving real and present danger in seemingly innocent situations.

Coiled wire

Peter Whorwell, Professor of Medicine & Gastroenterology at the University of Manchester, examined the use of hypnotherapy to manage and remedy IBS since the 1980s. His innovative research showed that over 60% of IBS sufferers who embark on hypnotherapy see continuing progress and even the total disappearance of symptoms, often with no reappearance.

Hypnotherapy is now recognised within the medical profession as an evidenced-based remedy that can help lessen the symptoms of IBS. The National Institute for Clinical and Care Excellence (NICE) lists it as an IBS treatment.

So how do I choose a hypnotherapist for IBS?

You can find a NCH-registered hypnotherapist in the Hypnotherapy Directory. Look for a practitioner who cites IBS as one of their treatments. You can also ask your local professional hypnotherapist whether they offer hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Once you have found hypnotherapists in your area, ensure they have the Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma and are a member of NCH. For vulnerable people or children, check that they have the appropriate Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service certificate for the age group, which means they have been checked for a criminal record and whether they are barred from working with children or adults.

How many sessions will I need?

Here at Flourish Hypnotherapy I use a proven protocol over seven sessions to quieten the conscious mind, induce deep relaxation, reduce gut sensitivity and improve confidence.

The number of sessions and space between them are discussed with the client and agreed as we go along.

Hand trailing fingers in the water.

What happens at a hypnotherapy session?

All sessions are entirely confidential. I will take a few notes including contact details, brief medical history and lifestyle. We will discuss any concerns that may be contributing to your symptoms. During hypnosis I will teach you how to relax very deeply and will help you to:

  1. Visualise how you will be feeling when your problem is resolved

  2. Process any anxiety you may have

  3. Use suggestion within hypnosis to decrease the sensitivity of your gut and increase feelings of health, positivity and confidence

  4. Learn self-hypnosis through the audio recording that I provide to listen to between our sessions together

Should I speak to my GP?

It is useful if you have already seen your GP and been tested to rule out other potential gut issues. It is worth telling your doctor that you are having hypnotherapy.

The National Council for Hypnotherapy is one of the largest not-for-profit professional associations in the UK and provides an assurance of a well-trained, ethical and insured hypnotherapist.

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