Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis or a trance-like state during which the patient has a heightened focus and concentration.1 In such a state, verbal suggestions and imagery can have a greater impact on a person’s physical and mental functioning than otherwise possible.2 Hypnosis is usually done with a licensed therapist in order to help the patient gain control over certain behaviors or cope more effectively with anxiety or pain. Hypnotherapy has been proven to be effective in reducing and managing the symptoms of IBS through clinical trials.1,3

While the standard medical methods are of some help to the majority of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), up to half of IBS sufferers are dissatisfied with the results of standard treatment and explore complementary and alternative treatments such as hypnotherapy. Mental stress, although not a direct cause of IBS, definitely acts as a trigger for gastrointestinal symptoms. One of the goals of hypnotherapy is to use the mind to have a positive or calming influence on the intestines.3

What to expect from hypnotherapy

Although hypnotherapy has been portrayed in the entertainment field as being used for nefarious purposes, in reality, a clinical hypnotherapist does not use any power over the patient. The treatment is comfortable, and there are generally no negative side effects for psychologically sound individuals. The patient is typically fully aware of everything that happens under hypnosis.1,2

Hypnotherapy sessions are usually conducted weekly or once every other week and last 30-40 minutes. The sessions typically include the induction of the hypnotic state, followed by deep relaxation and the use of gut-directed imagery and suggestions. Patients may be given recordings of hypnosis home exercises to use in addition to their sessions with their clinician. In research studies of hypnosis for IBS, the treatment generally consisted of 4 to 12 sessions, although there was less effectiveness in treatments less than 7 sessions.2

Research on hypnotherapy for IBS

Research has demonstrated that hypnosis can be used to affect gastrointestinal functioning. It can slow down the intestinal transit, can increase or decrease the acid secretion in the stomach, and can sometimes reduce or eliminate nausea and vomiting. Hypnosis has been clinically researched for IBS patients since the 1980s and has demonstrated many benefits:

  • Patients reported success rates of approximately 70-95 percent in all studies with any significant number of patients.
  • Treatment effectiveness lasts at least two years after the end of treatment.
  • All major IBS symptoms – abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating – improve from hypnotherapy.
  • The effectiveness of hypnotherapy for IBS can also be seen when patients are treated in groups.
  • In addition to the benefits on physical symptoms, hypnotherapy commonly improves psychological well-being and life functioning substantially and can have long-term positive effects in reducing health care costs and improving the quality of life of IBS patients.2

Selecting a hypnotherapist

When choosing a hypnotherapist, patients should look for a licensed health professional who has formal training and significant experience in clinical hypnosis. In addition, the hypnotherapist should understand the details of successful hypnosis treatment protocols for IBS. Many major health insurance plans in the U.S. will reimburse for IBS treatment with hypnosis when it is billed as psychological treatment.

Other treatment options for IBS

Hypnosis is just one option of many for the treatment and management of IBS. There are other methods, such as counseling and stress management, medications, lifestyle approaches, and other alternative and complementary therapies.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: September 2021