How hypnotherapy works for …

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Gut feelings

There’s a reason we talk about getting a “gut feeling”. We call it a gut feeling when it’s more like intuition, when it comes from the subconscious, rather than the rational, evidence-based part of our brain.

You may be surprised to learn that there are more nerves in the gut than there are in the brain. In fact, there is a whole nervous system — the enteric nervous system — inside your bowel and it has its own reflexes, independent of the brain or the central nervous system. For this reason, my gastroenterologist describes the gut as the second brain. So the “gut feeling” is real.

Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and sleep (the so-called “wellbeing” chemical) is generated in the enteric nervous system. There is no doubt that IBS, like pain, is an experience of the body that has both physical and emotional components.

Hypnotherapy is a good match for the emotional components of IBS. Recent research, published in the medical journal Gut, has shown that face-to-face talk therapies are more effective than drugs for IBS and even some online forms of psychotherapy have shown improvements.

As a counselling hypnotherapist I am sensitive to how IBS lives in your world. I will try to understand your experience of IBS in the context of your whole life and understand how the experience of IBS impacts your life, the triggers and pressures that contribute, the activities and opportunities it robs from you. Then we can work on the elements to change.

I will need consent from your GP

It’s important to distinguish between IBS and IBD, inflammatory bowel disease. This is a term for a number of conditions that your doctor must treat and will need regular medical supervision. Because the relationship between the two is complex and there is some overlap in symptoms, you will need to consult your GP to authorise hypnotherapy as a treatment for your IBS case.

Stress also triggers the activation of the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is connected to the central nervous system via sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways, forming the brain-gut axis (BGA). Four levels for the control of BGA are shown (Wood et al., 1999). The stress response of the BGA influences the generation of dIgA and/or the pIgR mediated trancytosis. NTs, neurotransmitters; NPs, neuropeptides; GCs, glucocorticoids.


The numbers

The sheer volume of people suffering every day with IBS is staggering. While doctors must treat Crohn’s and colitis, medicine has very little to offer persistent IBS sufferers where active disease is not present: doctors readily acknowledge that talk therapies are often more effective than pharmaceuticals.

  • Population affected – Up to 20%
  • Percentage still suffering after one year – 70%
  • Talk therapy improvement on drugs and diet – 30%

People suffering in UK

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