Hypnosis and IBS
Hypnosis has been shown to be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in a number of clinical studies. Hypnotherapy for IBS involves progressive relaxation, and then suggestions of soothing imagery and sensations focused on the individual’s symptoms. Improvements in overall well-being, quality of life, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating have been noted.
Contrary to many portrayals in fiction, a clinical hypnotherapist has no power over the hypnotized person. The person is typically aware of what happens both during and after the hypnosis session. The treatment is generally comfortable and also can be effective when people are treated in groups.
Research has found that hypnotherapy may help improve the primary symptoms of IBS. It may also help relieve other symptoms suffered by many people with IBS such as nausea, fatigue, backache, and urinary problems. Hypnotherapy appears to offer symptomatic, psychological, and physiological benefits.
However, hypnosis should not be regarded as a cure-all. Up to 25% of patients fail to respond. Even when people do improve, conventional approaches to treatment should not always be ignored. It is still important that lifestyle factors such as diet are also taken into account. In addition, some people may find that occasional loperamide or laxative, depending on the bowel habit abnormality, may be required.
Do the effects of hypnotherapy last once a course of treatment has been completed? Research on the long-term follow-up of patients who have benefited shows that after a period of between 1 and 5 years, most remain well with many requiring no further medication at all.
Hypnotherapy can be a time-consuming and costly approach in the short term. However, as a result of the sustained benefits of treatment, it has been calculated that it becomes cost-effective within 2 years when compared to conventional approaches.
How to Select a Hypnotherapist
Many individuals practice hypnosis that is not qualified to treat medical problems. Look for someone who treats medical problems with hypnosis.
Then get answers to the following three questions:
- Is this person a licensed health professional? Be aware that hypnosis certificates and vanity letters after the person’s name such as C. Ht. (“certified hypnotherapist”) mean nothing in terms of clinical qualifications. Only state-licensed health professionals (such as doctors, psychologists, nurses, clinical social workers) should treat IBS.
- Does this person have formal training and significant experience in clinical hypnosis? Using hypnosis with good success requires considerable skill and knowledge. In general, 50 hours or more of certified workshop training in hypnosis would be good, although less is sometimes adequate.
- Does this person know the details of successful hypnosis treatment protocols for IBS? Hypnosis in itself is probably not sufficient to treat IBS effectively. Specific gut-directed suggestions and imagery need to be included.
Many major health insurance plans in the US reimburse for IBS treatment with hypnosis when it is billed as psychological treatment under the mental health portion of the plans.
Hypnosis is just one of many in the treatment options for IBS. Other psychological methods, cognitive therapy in particular, are also effective options. Hypnosis may be especially suitable when severe chronic symptoms continue after standard medical management approaches have been tried. It has become clear that in such cases, hypnosis treatment can often produce major improvements that can last for years.
The hypnosis treatment described in this article was conducted by therapists who were following a rigorous treatment protocol in the treatment of patients diagnosed with IBS. Treatment involves generally 4 to 12 sessions with a qualified therapist. A list of clinicians in the US who use a treatment protocol standardized by Olafur S. Palsson, PsyD, is available online at ibshypnosis.com.
Adapted from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Publication No. D346; the text of this article is not copyrighted Published in Digestive Health Matters, Vol. 21, No. 4.
Adapted from IFFGD Publication: Hypnotherapy for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders by Peter J. Whorwell, MD, University Hospital of South Manchester, England, United Kingdom, and from IFFGD Publication #171 by Olafur S. Palsson, PsyD, Research Associate, Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.