Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: the research - part 2

It is IBS Awareness month so I thought it would be an apt time to write a couple blog posts on Irritable Bowel Syndrome and how hypnotherapy can help with it. In the first post I talked about a number of research studies which have been conducted over the years which show the efficacy of hypnotherapy for IBS. I purposely left out the details of the research conducted at Manchester by Dr Whorrel et al. In this post, I will be talking about the approach used within this research. I utilise many of the methods outlined in the research with my clients and they have benefited greatly from it.

The researchers in Manchester have studied gut-directed hypnotherapy for many years now and it has shown some great results. It led to the inclusion of hypnotherapy in the NICE guidelines so that GPs and Consultants can now recommend IBS patients have hypnotherapy to help with their symptoms.

The rationale behind using hypnosis for IBS was to help participants learn mental skills and techniques to develop control over the physiological mechanisms influencing the gut that they are not normally under conscious control of.

In 2009, a German researcher called Karin Meissner gave eighteen healthy volunteers a placebo pill on three occasions together with different verbal suggestions depending on which pill they received. One group were given a placebo pill and were told “This pill is a stimulant to your stomach. You will feel your stomach churning within the next 5 to 10 minutes, and this will reach a peak in about 15–20 minutes, at which time you may feel some heavy stomach contractions. Then it will wear off gradually, and be gone after 30–40 minutes”; the second group were given a placebo pill and told "This pill is a relaxant to your stomach. You will feel your stomach full and heavy within the next 5-10 minutes, and this will reach a peak in about 15-20 minutes, at which time you may feel bloated. Then it will wear off gradually, and be gone after 30–40 minutes“; and the third group were given a pill and told “This pill has no effect. We use it as a control, a mere sugar pill, to see the effects of just taking a pill on stomach activity. You won't feel anything.” The research showed that those who took what they thought to be the “gastric stimulant”, experienced an increase in movement through the gut, while those who took what they were led to believe as the “gastric relaxant”, experienced slower movement through the gut. Although not directly studying hypnotherapy or IBS, this piece of research does illustrate the power of the mind and how it can be used to control the physiological mechanisms involved in digestion and gut motility and therefore help with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

One of the things I love about the Manchester approach is that they emphasise the importance that participants take an active involvement in the process. They are taught a variety of techniques that they develop by practising them daily over the course of the therapy (typically up to 12 sessions over a 3 month period). Gonsalkorale et al state that they “emphasize that the person is becoming in control of the gut. This would seem to be a crucial part of our approach, since so many patients do feel out of control, and it has been shown in general that a sense of self-efficacy and an internal locus of control are vital in the success of any psychological intervention. It is generally our experience that a particularly passive, helpless patient does not do well. We also emphasize the importance of practice in order to develop these hypnotic skills, just as one would have to in learning a musical instrument, for example, and that it is not the therapist doing all the work.”

The sessions that the participants received focused on a number of techniques to help with stress reduction, a known trigger of IBS symptoms, in addition to confidence building so that they felt able to feel in control of their condition. More specific techniques aimed at controlling and normalizing how the gut is functioning were also taught to the participants, such as creating warmth in the hand which can then be used to sooth and comfort the stomach area as well as using imagery to regulate and control the flow of the gut. Participants also spent time mentally rehearsing themselves in situations that in the past they might have feared or avoided due to their IBS symptoms but now with normal gut function. Other aspects were looked at too depending on the individual.

The rate of progress for the participants differed as you would expect, but most reported some initial benefits after a few sessions and of course a more significant improvement throughout the course of therapy.

Participants of the gut-directed hypnosis at Manchester, as well as my own clients, have derived a considerable amount of benefit from learning these techniques. They have experienced improvements in their bowel symptoms of IBS, their mental wellbeing and quality of life. Hypnosis is not a cure for IBS and cannot guarantee that you will never have symptoms again but you can definitely achieve a good reduction in symptoms and gain more control over the condition and life generally.

I have seen a number of clients over the years who come to have hypnotherapy for their IBS thinking that it will miraculously get rid of their symptoms without them having to put any effort in to it at all, just like popping a pill. It doesn’t work like that unfortunately and as you can see above, the patients who benefit most from this approach are those which put in the time and effort to learning and practising the techniques taught to them during the process. Hypnotherapy can be a real game changer for those suffering from IBS if they choose to engage fully in the process.

If you are suffering with IBS and would like to find out more about how Hypnotherapy can help you, please visit my dedicated IBS webpage.

Related Posts:
Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Research - Part 1
Hypnotherapy Provides Support for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Sufferers

- Gonsalkorale, W. M. (2006) Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy: The Manchester Approach for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54:1, 27-50
- Gonsalkorale, W. M. & Whorwell, P. J. (2005) Hypnotherapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 17:15–20
- Gonsalkorale, W. M., Toner, B. B., Whorwell, P. J. (2004) Cognitive change in patients undergoing hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome. J Psychosom Res. Mar;56(3):271-8
- Meissner, K. (2009) Effects of placebo interventions on gastric motility and general autonomic activity. Journal of psychosomatic research 66 (5), 391-398