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Can Gut-directed Hypnotherapy Help Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

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Have you heard of gut-directed hypnotherapy? If an image of swinging pendulums arises, you’re not alone. Hypnotherapy scenes from movies have presented hypnotherapy work as almost a magic trick, which it surely is not. But, what exactly is gut-directed hypnotherapy and how does it work? 

Gut-directed hypnotherapy is a technique where suggestions are made that help the patient into a hypnotic state, or deepened state of relaxation. The suggestions are made to help the patient take control of their own gut symptoms. Guided imagery and metaphors are also used. The deepened relaxation and suggestions help patients tap into an area of their brain they aren’t typically conscious of, the gut-brain axis (1,2).

 

What is the Gut-Brain Axis?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) was previously categorized as a functional gut disorder but changed to a disorder of the gut-brain axis. So, what is that? The gut-brain axis is the “bi-directional flow of information that takes place between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract” (1). The brain and the intestines communicate along nerve fibers called the vagus nerve. People who have IBS experience some type of miscommunication with their gut-brain axis, which results in digestive symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits. This miscommunication is also why IBS was recategorized as a disorder of the gut-brain axis. 

 

Who is it for?

Gut-directed hypnotherapy has been studied in various gastrointestinal disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Recent research has found it to be just as effective in managing IBS and overall quality of life when compared to a low FODMAP diet (3). This makes it an ideal approach for anyone who has a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, multiple dietary restrictions or food allergies, or anyone with IBS who is looking for a non-diet approach. 

 

Are there any drawbacks?

I don’t know if I would call this a drawback, but gut-directed hypnotherapy does require consistency (as do most things pertaining to gut health). Unfortunately, you can’t do it once per week and expect amazing results. On the upside, many of the studies found that IBS patients who did hypnotherapy work found long-term relief. 

 

How do I start?

The best way to go about starting gut-directed hypnotherapy is to talk to your healthcare provider. Many gastrointestinal practices have a GI-focused psychologist on staff that may provide hypnotherapy or can point you in the right direction. You can also look for a practitioner near you at IBSHypnosis.com. No luck finding a practitioner? Mindset Health came out with a gut-directed hypnotherapy app called Nerva. The app entails a 6-week program followed by a 6-week maintenance phase. 

 

References

Peters, S. L., Muir, J. G., & Gibson, P. R. (2015). Review article: gut-directed hypnotherapy in the management of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 41(11), 1104–1115. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.13202

Chandler, Jennifer. “Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy” mindsethealth.com. Mindset Health Pty Ltd, August 13, 2021. https://www.mindsethealth.com/matter/gut-directed-hypnotherapy

Peters, S. L., Yao, C. K., Philpott, H., Yelland, G. W., Muir, J. G., & Gibson, P. R. (2016). Randomised clinical trial: the efficacy of gut-directed hypnotherapy is similar to that of the low FODMAP diet for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 44(5), 447–459. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13706

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About Author

Liz McMahon, RDN, LDN
Liz McMahon, RDN, LDN

Liz is a Registered Dietitian who focuses on digestive health. She has completed FODMAP training through Monash University and loves seeing the benefit her IBS patients have with this diet! Liz has been in the nutrition field for over 10 years, working at a top hospital in Philadelphia as a Clinical Dietitian for the past 5 years. She also runs her own private practice, Liz McMahon Nutrition, where she provides virtual nutrition counseling to clients with a range of gastrointestinal disorders.

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