Over the last 3 years of working as a hypnotherapist one of the most common issues I have dealt with has been IBS. Knowing how people suffering from anxiety and depression can experience flare ups of IBS I wanted to explore this in more detail so when a CPD course came along I was curious to learn more.

Gut directed hypnotherapy is a special form of hypnotherapy developed for IBS and digestive disorders pioneered by Dr. P.J. Whorwell at the University Hospital of South Manchester. It uses the therapeutic qualities of hypnotherapy such as deep relaxation combined with gut-specific suggestions. Gut-directed hypnotherapy appears to change the way the brain modulates gut activity and laboratory tests have shown that under hypnosis, gut sensitivity is reduced.

Over a decade of scientific research has shown gut-directed hypnotherapy to be one of the most successful approaches for chronic IBS. In most published studies 1,2. eight out of ten patients reported feeling 80% better following a course of treatment.

As with any treatment for hypnotherapy repetition is the key to success. If the client only goes into hypnosis whilst they are with you it is simply not going to work. We cannot wave a magic wand. The client needs to put in the work and as I record each individual hypnosis and send it to the client they will always have those recordings and can go back to them anytime. Because of this, whilst going through the treatment I do encourage clients to listen to their recordings each and every day between sessions as this guarantees a greater success. IBS is not life threatening but it is debilitating and can interfere with people’s lives. It is classified as a functional bowel disorder and it is twice as likely to occur in women than it is in men, and be worse around the menstrual cycle. 1 in 5 people develop IBS at some point in their lives and it commonly first develops in young adults and teenagers. It is estimated that 10%-20% of the UK population is affected by IBS but it may be higher as many people with the order do not seek medical advice.
IBS can be more severe around periods of psychological distress but stress in itself does not cause IBS. However, how people react to stress is different for those with IBS. We know that there is a brain and gut connection and it is this knowledge that makes hypnotherapy a perfect tool for someone suffering IBS. It is important to make it clear that hypnotherapy cannot cure IBS but what it can do is lessen the symptoms and help make the condition more manageable. People whose bowel symptoms flare up during stressful situations are called gut responders.

There is no medical test as such for IBS but a checklist that doctors use. There is no inflammation with IBS but to rule out something more serious more tests can be carried out by a doctor and it is important that this is done before you seek out hypnotherapy. I would only work with a client who had a formal diagnosis of IBS before coming to see me.

Treatment is over a minimum of 6 sessions as there is a protocol that needs to be followed and worked through that has been proven to work, this can sometimes go up to 12 sessions depending on the client.

There are subtypes of IBS so this will be explored with the client. We will look at diet and antispasmodic medicines. The cognitive behavioural side of the therapy helps the client shift from a view of IBS as a medical problem that is all encompassing and uncontrollable to a belief that the IBS symptoms (at least partially) are subject to the client’s control. It helps clients identify relationships between thoughts, feelings, behaviours, environment and IBS symptoms. This then empowers clients to develop and implement increasingly more effective ways of coping with IBS in order to improve the quality of their life. Psychoeducation is used within the therapy and of course the hypnosis itself forms part of the treatment.

1. Gonsalkorale WM, Miller V, Afzal A, Whorwell PJ. Long term benefits of hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome. Gut. 2003 Nov: 52 (11): 1623-9.
2. Whorwell PJ; Prior A; Faragher EB. Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome. The Lancet 1984, 2: 1232-4.