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Hypnotherapy and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Gavin Blackman

The approach of using hypnosis as an adjunct to treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), has been  developed since the 1980s at the Manchester University Medical School. Peter Whorwell is a Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at the Manchester University Medical School. 

Professor Whorwell has worked with and researched hypnotherapy as an effective treatment for IBS for many years.  Manchester Hypnotherapy has then been helping patients get rid of their IBS since 2008. Clinical trials have shown that hypnotherapy successfully treats IBS in more than 70% of cases.

Basically patients receive 6-12 sessions lasting 30-60 minutes over a 3 month period conducted by a trained hypnotherapist and the majority of patients achieve a marked improvement in symptoms and their quality of Life and this improvement is usually sustained.

Broadly the aims of gut-focussed  hypnotherapy are  to induce a deep state of relaxation and to teach patients the necessary hypnotic skills to control gut functions and reduce symptoms, such as hand warmth on the abdomen and imagery. Other interventions based on particular lifestyle and psychological factors commonly found to influence symptoms are also included as appropriate for the individual patient.

One of the fundamental aspects of delivering a gut-focussed hypnotherapy package for a functional disorder is educating the patient regarding the basic anatomy and physiology of the gut. This is provided in such a way that is easily understandable from the outset. The patient is then provided with explanations about how disturbance of this normal gastrointestinal “function” can produce their specific symptoms.

During subsequent hypnotherapy sessions, the patient is taught a series of approaches to enable them to gain control of their gut function. The approach is adapted to the patients’ symptom profile and own personal imagery using metaphors. This is because previous studies have shown the benefits of optimising gut-focussed hypnotherapy based on patients’ personal visual imagery of their functional disorder using colour, illustrations and anatomical diagrams to enhance the treatment experience. For example, patients with a functional bowel disorder could be asked to imagine their gut is a river and to modify its flow according to their needs depending on whether they have predominant diarrhoea or constipation. 

For abdominal pain, the tactile approach of the patient placing their hand on their abdomen, feeling warmth and using this to alleviate pain can be useful. Similarly an inflated balloon being slowly deflated can be used as a metaphor to reduce abdominal bloating. This is also combined with other helpful techniques such as teaching the patient diaphragmatic breathing.

Also, during the hypnotherapy sessions, great emphasis is placed on the patient having control over their gut, rather than their gut having control over them, a mantra that is reinforced repeatedly. While the content of each hypnotherapy session is similar, the hypnotherapist often introduces suggestions and strategies on how to overcome tendencies to anxiety or  fear of imminent catastrophe and developing the ability to gain control over coincidental problems.  Patients are encouraged to practice hypnotherapy at home in between sessions using audio recordings.

I am based in Winchester; however, Hypnotherapy works just as effectively on-line as well as in person. To find out more about how hypnotherapy can help with IBS, please contact me.

E: [email protected] P: 07955 708647 W: https://gavinbhypno.com

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