Is hypnosis safe and effective for treating IBS?

Is hypnosis safe and effective for treating IBS?

This study checks out is effective and safe for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A total of 464 patients received 7–12 hypnosis sessions over a 12 week period. At the end of therapy, hypnosis proved to be superior in producing adequate symptom relief.

This study demonstrated that hypnosis was safe and provided long-term adequate symptom relief in 54% of IBS patients compared to conventional therapy. [more]

Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Hypnosis has been shown to be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in a number of clinical studies.

Hypnotherapy for IBS involves progressive relaxation, and then suggestions of soothing imagery and sensations focused on the individual’s symptoms.

Improvements in overall well-being, quality of life, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating have been noted.

Contrary to many portrayals in fiction, a clinical hypnotherapist has no power over the hypnotized person. The person is typically aware of what happens both during and after the hypnosis session.

The treatment is generally comfortable and also can be effective when people are treated in groups.

Research has found that hypnotherapy may help improve the primary symptoms of IBS. It may also help relieve other symptoms suffered by many people with IBS such as nausea, fatigue, backache, and urinary problems. Hypnotherapy appears to offer symptomatic, psychological, and physiological benefit.

However, hypnosis should not be regarded as a cure-all. Up to 25% of patients fail to respond. Even when people do improve, conventional approaches to treatment should not always be ignored.

It is still important that lifestyle factors such as diet are also taken into account. In addition, some people may find that an occasional loperamide or laxative, depending on the bowel habit abnormality, may be required.

Do the effects of hypnotherapy last once a course of treatment has been completed? Research on the long-term follow up of patients who have benefited shows that after a period of between 1 and 5 years, most remain well with many requiring no further medication at all.

Hypnotherapy can be a time-consuming and costly approach in the short term. However, as a result of the sustained benefits of treatment, it has been calculated that it becomes cost effective within 2 years when compared to conventional approaches.

How to select a hypnotherapist

Many individuals practice hypnosis that are not qualified to treat medical problems. Look for someone who treats medical problems with hypnosis.

Then get answers to the following three questions:

Is this person a licensed health professional? Be aware that hypnosis certificates and vanity letters after the person’s name such as C. Ht. (“certified hypnotherapist”) mean nothing in terms of clinical qualifications. Only state-licensed health professionals (such as doctors, psychologists, nurses, clinical social workers) should treat IBS.

Does this person have formal training and significant experience in clinical hypnosis? Using hypnosis with good success requires considerable skill and knowledge. In general, 50 hours or more of certified workshop training in hypnosis would be good, although less is sometimes adequate.

Does this person know the details of successful hypnosis treatment protocols for IBS? Hypnosis in itself is probably not sufficient to treat IBS effectively. Specific gut-directed suggestions and imagery need to be included.

Many major health insurance plans in the US reimburse for IBS treatment with hypnosis when it is billed as psychological treatment under the mental health portion of the plans.


Hypnosis is just one of many in the treatment options for IBS. Other psychological methods, cognitive therapy in particular, are also effective options.

Hypnosis may be especially suitable when severe chronic symptoms continue after standard medical management approaches have been tried. It has become clear that in such cases, hypnosis treatment can often produce major improvement that can last for years.

Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Hypnotherapy can help manage IBS symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that affects many people across the world. Due to symptoms such as abdominal pain, this disorder can have a big impact on life quality. New research, however, reveals that hypnotherapy can improve life for those with the condition.

Can hypnotherapy truly relieve IBS symptoms?

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can experience symptoms such as abdominal pain and abnormal bowel movements to various degrees of severity, and they can also face mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Some common approaches to managing IBS are by carefully controlling one’s diet, improving one’s lifestyle choices, and, if necessary, seeking mental health therapy.

In the past, some research has suggested that people with IBS may also benefit from hypnotherapy sessions. Now, specialists at the University Medical Center Utrecht and other institutions in the Netherlands have decided to delve deeper into the question of whether hypnotherapy can improve IBS symptoms — and if so, in what way. The researchers recently conducted a randomized controlled trial, the findings of which now appear in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Improved symptom relief

The study assessed the efficacy of individual and group hypnotherapy in IBS. It is the largest study to date to look into this issue.
In the study, the researchers worked with 354 participants aged 18–65 with IBS.

The scientists randomly selected participants to take part in one of three interventions:

– individual 45 minute hypnotherapy sessions twice per week for 6 weeks (150 participants)
– group hypnotherapy sessions with the same timeframe (150 participants)
– dedicated educational supportive care sessions (54 participants)

For the delivery of the hypnotherapy sessions, the team recruited psychologists who had trained in hypnotherapy. During the sessions, the hypnotherapists applied techniques of positive visualization, providing suggestions about pain and discomfort management.
They also gave the participants CDs containing materials that would allow them to practice hypnosis techniques on their own for 15–20 minutes on a daily basis.

The researchers asked the participants to fill in questionnaires assessing various factors relevant to the study — including the severity of their IBS symptoms, their quality of life, how much they spent on healthcare, and how often they had to miss work due to the condition.

The assessments took place at baseline, at the 3-month mark, and at the 9-month mark. The team also evaluated to what extent participants experienced relief immediately after the intervention (at the 3-month mark) and then again 9 months later.

The scientists found that the people with IBS who had participated in hypnotherapy — whether individual or group-based — experienced the most satisfactory degree of symptom relief, compared with participants in the educational supportive care group.

Participants who underwent hypnotherapy were still enjoying the benefits 9 months after the treatment. However, the researchers claim that despite reporting satisfactory rates of symptom relief, the participants did not actually see a significant improvement in symptom severity as such.

“We do not know exactly how gut-directed hypnotherapy works,” says lead researcher Dr. Carla Flik, “but it may change patients’ mindset and internal coping mechanisms, enabling them to increase their control over autonomic body processes, such as how they process pain and modulate gut activity.”

Group sessions just as promising

Other than symptom relief, the tested-for factors — including quality of life, psychological problems, healthcare costs, and work absence — remained roughly the same among all the participants following the interventions.

The researchers also admit that their study faced a few limitations. For example, some participants — 22 (15 percent) of those in the individual hypnotherapy group, another 22 (15 percent) of those in the group hypnotherapy sessions, and 11 (20 percent) of those in the educational supportive care group — dropped out of the study.

Also, a significant number of participants did not manage to fill in all the questionnaires, which, the researchers say, may have impacted the findings. However, the researchers note that the results they recorded in the recent study may, in fact, have been an underestimation, since the hypnotherapists did not have previous experience in treating people with IBS, specifically. Also, the participants only received six hypnotherapy sessions, which is only half the number of sessions that a person would normally expect to receive.

“Our study indicates that hypnotherapy could be considered as a treatment option for patients with IBS, irrespective of symptom severity and IBS sub-type. It is also promising to see that group hypnotherapy is as effective as individual sessions, which may mean that more people could be treated with it at lower cost, should it be confirmed in further studies.”

“What’s striking about these findings is the extent to which patients’ perception of their illness has an effect on their suffering, and that their perception of symptoms appears to be as important as actual symptom severity,” adds Dr. Flik.

By: Maria Cohut