Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you are one of the many people in the UK whose life is affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you are not alone. It is a gastrointestinal problem which can physically cause nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bowel incontinence and bloating. In addition to these problems it can also affect people mentally in terms of anxiety regarding living with it and when it will strike and this can often subsequently affect their mood. 


The average age of onset is believed to be 20 to 29 years old. The exact cause of why Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) occurs has never been confirmed but it is thought to possibly be a cause of food passing through your gut too quickly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress and sometimes a family history of the problem.

The old saying 'a healthy body, a healthy mind' is not just a turn of phrase but true and especially in the case of your stomach. The stomach is the most emotional part of your body and there is a connection between your brain and your gut and as you respond to difficult and adverse life experiences your gut responds accordingly. This is evidenced by the fact that there is more serotonin contained in your gut than in your brain. 

The connection between your mind and your gut is a linked pathway whereby the sensations in your gut reach your brain through a network of nerves in your intestine, which is transferred through your spinal cord to your brain and the connection can work both ways. If the brain is affected the gut reacts and vice versa.

The mayo clinic in America reports that any person can experience stomach pain and bowel irregularities with stress and anxiety, but in IBS sufferers the stress related symptoms of diarrhoea and pain occur with far greater regularity. This affects their sense of well-being, activities in work and in family life. In America Irritable Bowel Syndrome accounts for the second leading cause of absenteeism from work.  

This is why hypnotherapy is such a useful tool in combating Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In its purest form hypnotherapy will induce a state of deep relaxation in addition to ego strengthening and helpful suggestions of improvement to your less analytical subconscious mind whilst in trance.

The ego strengthening may involve encouraging you to build tolerance to the problem promoting your confidence and your resilience in controlling it, and normalising digestive function. It depends on how any one individual experiences IBS but different approaches may involve direct suggestion such as no more pain, no more discomfort and that you can control when you need to go to the toilet.

The hypnotherapist may encourage you to pay less attention to your symptoms, and to ignore the uncomfortable sensations and to not be too fixated on them. This is because often, if people have lived with the problem for a long time, they can be hyper vigilant to it which only heightens their anxiety.

The use of metaphor which your unconscious mind is particularly receptive to  can be helpful for IBS. For example, comparing your gut to the current of a river with a client controlling the flow to suit their needs. In certain instances with clients I may ask that you place a hand over your abdomen and feel the warmth of your body, and get you to connect this feeling of control over your digestive function. 

The use of guided imagery is very powerful in hypnotherapy and for clients who are very visual the therapist may encourage the client to picture their stomach and intestinal muscles relaxing and becoming calm. It is important to recognise that all people's personal experience of IBS is unique but I find that generally with clients I try to primarily emphasise their ability to calm their digestive tract which subsequently prevents heightened focus on pain in the body and by encouraging their own belief that they can conquer it. 

Hypnotherapy in recent times is proving a popular alternative to conventional treatments and helps not just with the actual symptoms but also improve quality of life and there is substantial evidence in particular that it alleviates abdominal pain and bloating in particular. In Sweden hypnotherapy is the primary approach for dealing with IBS. 

In a study in Manchester in the 1980s into how hypnotherapy compared with talking therapy and placebo medication, two groups were divided with one receiving 30 minutes of hypnotherapy a week for 12 weeks, whilst the other received supportive talking therapy and placebo medication. In the final analysis it was found that the hypnotherapy group showed significant improvement in terms of managing abdominal pain, distension (bloating), bowel problems and also their overall quality of life. 

In a more recent study in 2002 it was found that from 250 people surveyed those receiving hypnotherapy for IBS reported more than 50% reduction in severity of symptoms and improved quality of life.

Hypnotherapy has also proven to be highly effective in treating functional dyspepsia (recurring indigestion with no obvious cause) and with long lasting benefits and less reliance on medication use. 

It is normal for people unfamiliar with clinical hypnotherapy to be worried about losing control or to worry about their ability to go into trance. This is why I always emphasise to clients that they are in trance for as long as they want to be and can come out anytime they wish. In terms of people worrying about being able to enter trance, I find that although some people are more suggestible to inducing trance than others everybody has the ability to be hypnotised.

It also important to highlight that any hypnotherapist you attend should encourage you to use self-hypnosis in your own time. This generally involves giving the client a recording such as an MP3 file or CD which guides the client in inducing trance themselves in their own time with a helpful message contained within. 

In certain instances hypnotherapy alone may not suffice and clients may have to employ other interventions to manage their symptoms. I think it is important to teach clients to learn solid techniques that they can employ in their everyday life long after they have learned the therapy room so that they can enjoy lasting benefits free from their problems. 

Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple and useful technique to learn which engages your stomach abdominal muscles and diaphragm when breathing. This deep breathing technique can help relax your abdominal muscles and help your bowel activity. Progressive muscle relaxation is another simple to use intervention and works by tightening different muscle groups in the body then focusing on gradually letting go until every muscle from head to toe is completely relaxed.

It is vitally important that you seek practitioners who are experienced in the area that your problem is focussed on, and although clients often ask how many appointments they will require, no hypnotherapist should ever really be able to tell your how many appointments a problem will take to fix as everyone's problem is unique.

I hope that you have found this article useful, that you are able to have found the information within it beneficial and that it informs you going forward if you are potentially looking at choosing hypnotherapy for your irritable bowel problem.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Glasgow G3 & Troon KA10
Written by Iain Lawrence, (BA) Dip Hyp
Glasgow G3 & Troon KA10

My name is Iain Lawrence I am a Hypnotherapist Based in South Lanarkshire and South Ayrshire. I am a caring empathetic practitioner and I have experience of a wide range of issues from Phobias to Anxiety. I use Hypnotherapy, Emotional Freedom Therapy and NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming in my practice. I believe change happens starting small.

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