Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Hypnotherapy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It involves guided hypnosis and is performed by a trained professional.1

Hypnotherapy may improve communication between the brain and the gut, leading to improved IBS symptoms.2,3

How does hypnotherapy work?

Guided hypnosis involves creating a trance-like state. However, the person undergoing hypnosis is aware of what is going on at all times. It is not an unconscious or unaware state in which a person is controlled, as it is often shown in the media. Instead, hypnosis uses guided imagery and relaxation efforts that allow a person to be open to suggestions or changes.1,3

Hypnotherapy can be used to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Decrease symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Treat a variety of medical conditions such as sleep disorders, substance use disorders, and chemotherapy side effects

The frequency and length of sessions can vary. A person may go for 30 minutes to 1 hour each session. A session may occur once a week for 12 weeks.1,3

Work with your hypnotherapist to decide the best schedule for you based on your goals and availability. Many using hypnotherapy will use audiotapes at home in between sessions to continue their practice.

Hypnotherapy and IBS

The hypnotherapy used in IBS is usually gut-directed. The goal is to improve awareness and control of IBS symptoms. Each session produces a state of deep relaxation.3

The therapist often uses imagery and metaphors to educate a person on their gut and its function. Breathing techniques, pain-relieving tactics, and more are then used to encourage control over the gut and IBS symptoms.3

With practice, it may be possible to impact the way the gut and brain talk with one another. This may lead to changes in gut pain and gut muscle contractions. It can also impact stress levels, anxiety, and depression, all of which can play a role in IBS symptoms.2,3

Much of the research on hypnotherapy for IBS appears positive. When practiced correctly, the methods learned in hypnotherapy may provide symptom relief that lasts for years.3

Hypnotherapy may be especially helpful in cases where traditional IBS drugs have not been useful in reducing symptoms. It can also be used alongside traditional IBS drugs.3

More research is needed to find the true effect of hypnotherapy on IBS symptoms and how it may be best combined with other treatments. But, the results so far seem positive.

What are the possible side effects of hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a relatively safe method to use alongside other treatment options. Most studies of hypnotherapy have found few to no side effects. Rarely, hypnotherapy can cause:3

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety

Things to know about hypnotherapy

While hypnotherapy is safe for most people who try it, it is used with caution in people with certain mental health conditions. Hypnotherapy can cause anxiety or other unpleasant emotions. Hypnotherapy should always be led by a trained expert.

If you are interested in hypnotherapy, talk with your doctor. They may be able to recommend trained professionals in your area.

When you find a hypnotherapist you feel comfortable with, you can ask about their training or certifications. There are professional groups like the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) that recognize qualified experts.1

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