Anyone who suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is well aware of the impact symptoms such as abdominal pain, distension and altered bowel habit can have on the quality of their life. Add in additional symptoms such as backache, nausea, and lethargy and many people can feel that it is IBS that controls their lives. IBS is becoming more common. It now makes up to half of the cases seen by NHS gastroenterologist in the UK, and that only accounts for those who seek medical help.
There is a wide selection of medical interventions available to IBS sufferers, but not everyone responds well to them. They can have limited efficacy, or unpleasant side effects associated with them such as constipation, dry mouth or blurred vision. For many this is simply swapping one set of symptoms for another.
Hypnotherapy as a treatment of the symptoms of IBS has been shown to be highly effective. with the majority of patients showing improvement in symptoms, associated extra-colonic features and quality of life, findings which have been confirmed by independent studies. Dr Whorwell of Withington Hospital in Manchester has carried out extensive research into how well hypnotherapy works, finding that it improved symptoms in 70% of cases, with women finding it worked more, at 80%. Not only did it improve the colonic symptoms associated with IBS, but also non-colonic. Clients reported improvement in anxiety and depression levels, plus experience no side effects with hypnotherapy, unlike many of the medical treatments available to them.
Dr Whorrell does not see hypnotherapy as a ‘stand alone’ treatment and feels strongly that it should be part of an integrated care package. This should involve education, diet, lifestyle advice and medication. The more a client understands about their condition, how their gut works and what lifestyle factors affect their IBS, the more control they will have. Added to this, medication can be a useful tool to aid this; a laxative can be used if constipated or perhaps Imodium if they have diarrhoea.
What happens when you have hypnotherapy for your IBS?
The first session is a ‘getting to know you’ session, including a tutorial on IBS giving information on some of the abnormalities of gastrointestinal function that contribute to symptoms, such as hypersensitivity and excessive contraction of the gut muscles. You will be asked about your symptoms, what techniques you have used in the past that have and have not been successful..
At the end of the first session you will be given a MP3 to listen to between sessions. The purpose is to help you to learn to relax, build your confidence in the process and to reinforce the work carried out during sessions. Hypnosis starts at the second session. You will be hypnotised, usually by getting you to progressively relax your muscles in conjunction with calming your mind. We will explore useful visualisations and metaphors for your symptoms, such as viewing bloating as a balloon inflated inside your tummy. These can be used during hypnosis to control symptoms, because the brain can activate the necessary symptoms to bring about change without actually having to know how to make it happen.
For instance, you may be asked to imagine your gut as a river, the flow of which you are able to control by speeding it up or slowing it down depending on what type of bowel habit you have. In addition, you are asked to put your hand on your tummy and feel a pleasant warming feeling that can reach every part of your gut and give you control over it. You are told that in the future every time you put you hand on their tummy you will feel this warmth, which will enable you to get rid of any pain. Eventually you will be able to soothe your pain in day-to-day life by just putting your hand on their tummy, without having to go into a trance.
At each session of treatment the process is repeated and built upon according to the your response. Each session takes approximately one hour and the process is repeated at weekly intervals, if possible, and is usually complete after 6 sessions, though some clients may need more. Hypnotherapy for IBS is not a backward-looking form of treatment; we are only interested in moving forward.