Can Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy Help IBS?

Last updated: January 2021

As belief in the mind-body connection becomes more mainstream, a tailored therapy for the mind-gut connection is also gaining attention. Gut-directed hypnotherapy is a practice that uses hypnotherapy (also called hypnosis) to reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms without medication or, by way of online sessions or downloadable recordings, leaving the house.1

What is gut-directed hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy is a tool used by trained therapists to put people in a state of deep, relaxed deep concentration. It can help people use their subconscious minds to help change the way they think or act. Research suggests that hypnotherapy can be helpful to people with anxiety and pain management. A growing number of studies show that hypnotherapy can also provide long-term relief for symptoms of IBS.2,3

A 2019 article reviewed nearly 30 studies on gut-directed hypnotherapy over the last 30 years. The author found that most of these studies showed that hypnotherapy significantly improved bowel symptoms, and in many cases, the associated quality of life and emotional symptoms. On the basis of the review, the author concluded that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for IBS.4

Why does gut-directed hypnotherapy work for IBS?

IBS can be hard to control with traditional treatments that only target the digestive system. At the heart of this mystery is the mind-gut connection. Although the pathway is not yet well understood, it is thought that stress and trauma can cause IBS and vice versa. Breaking this cycle is difficult and can require more than just treating the body.3

Gut-directed hypnotherapy has been shown to help people with IBS in 2 ways: by reducing physical symptoms and by reducing stress. Together, it has the potential to increase the quality of life for people who have not found relief with traditional treatments. Plus, these improvements can be long-lasting.3

In a study of more than 200 IBS patients who tried hypnotherapy, 71 percent saw an improvement in their IBS symptoms, such as pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Of those patients, 81 percent maintained those improvements after at least a year. But that is not all: People whose physical IBS symptoms improved also saw lasting improvements in anxiety, depression, and quality of life factors such as confidence, sleep, mood, relationships, and enjoyment of leisure time.3

All patients in the study reported needing to see their doctors less and taking fewer medications after hypnotherapy. So even if the price of hypnotherapy can be high if it is not covered by insurance, it may offset the price of medication and visits to the doctor.3

How does gut-directed hypnotherapy work?

So, what does hypnotherapy look like for people with IBS? If you are picturing a swinging pocket watch or crystal ball, think again. Modern hypnotherapy is done by a trained hypnotherapist in an office. Look for someone who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.5

Unlike the hypnosis we see on TV or in the movies, you will not be put to sleep or lose control of yourself. During a session, your hypnotherapist will put you into a state of relaxed concentration. From there, they will offer suggestions or visualizations, such as feeling warmth in the abdomen or building your emotional strength.3,5

In the study highlighted above, patients saw a hypnotherapist once a week, for up to 12 weeks. However, like any other form of psychotherapy, the length of your treatment can vary. Plus, there are some gut-directed hypnotherapy programs offered online, through 1-on-1 video sessions or downloadable recordings.1,3,5

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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