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.

A surprise medical solution: hypnosis

A surprise medical solution: hypnosis

Major hospitals are finding hypnotherapy can help sufferers of digestive conditions like heartburn, colitis, acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome.

Sarah Blau settles into a wicker chair, stretching her feet onto an ottoman. In a soothing voice, Laurie Keefer, says, “I’m going to count from one to three, and as I count, your eyelids will get heavy and they’ll close whenever it feels right.”

Dr. Keefer, a health psychologist at Mount Sinai Health System, has Ms. Blau progressively relax each part of her body and guides her to “a place of rest and comfort and healing.” “Enjoy the beauty of this natural, healing place,” she tells her, “and as you do, something very powerful and healthy and positive is taking place deep inside your body. Your body knows what it needs to maintain healing your gut. It knows how to keep pleasant sensations in and avoid pain and discomfort.”

Hypnotherapy—when patients enter a trance-like state using relaxation and visual images—is often associated with alternative medicine. But increasingly medical centers are using it to treat digestive conditions like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, a disease Ms. Blau learned she had in 2016.

Studies have shown hypnotherapy is effective reducing symptoms associated with these gastrointestinal disorders. Insurance companies usually cover the treatments. The body of evidence is strongest for IBS, but a 2013 study found hypnotherapy was effective at prolonging remission in colitis patients. And a 2016 pilot study found patients with functional heartburn reported fewer symptoms.

Dr. Keefer works at the Susan and Leonard Feinstein Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinical Center at Mount Sinai. There she does hypnotherapy for patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, diseases caused by inflammation of the intestines.

The treatment usually consists of about seven sessions over three months, with home practice in between. Studies have found the effects can last more than a year and work in more than half of patients.

In addition to Mount Sinai, hypnosis for patients with digestive conditions is available at University of Michigan, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, University of Washington in Seattle, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Loyola University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the Chicago area. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., also is exploring adding hypnotherapy for IBS patients.

Laurie Keefer, a health psychologist at Mount Sinai Health System, conducts hypnotherapy research and treatments on patients with inflammatory bowel disease. There is a three-to-six-month wait list for the treatment.

Some patients get a little uneasy about the word ‘hypnosis,’ ” says Andrea Bradford, an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor, which started offering the treatment in 2016. “It conjures up images of some guy in Vegas making you bark like a dog. It takes some education to explain to them what it constitutes and what it does not.” She says about one-third of patients are open to it.

Experts theorize that hypnotherapy works because many gastrointestinal disorders are affected by a faulty connection between the brain and the gut, or digestive tract. The gut and brain are in constant communication. When something disrupts that communication, the brain misinterprets normal signals, which can cause the body to become hypersensitive to stimuli detected by nerves in the gut, causing pain. Experts believe hypnosis shifts the brain’s attention away from those stimuli by providing healthy suggestions about what’s going on in the gut.

“It doesn’t get rid of the stimulus. Your GI tract is still moving. It’s just changing the threshold of perception so you’re not paying attention or feeling it with the same intensity,” says John Pandolfino, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Northwestern, which started offering hypnotherapy in 2006 and has plans to expand to two regional hospitals. Northwestern has trained health psychologists in GI disorders who have moved on to start programs at other academic centers.

Sarah Quinton, a gastrointestinal psychologist at Northwestern, is part of a team that conducts hypnotherapy treatments, along with two other psychologists and students in training. . They plan to expand treatments two local hospital due to patient demand and success rates.

Because there aren’t many treatments for IBS, hypnotherapy has become “the front-line therapy,” Dr. Pandolfino says. Dr. Pandolfino says he will take patients with reflux problems whose symptoms aren’t improving off their medication. After that, if their acid levels are normal but they still experience symptoms, like chest pain, he recommends hypnotherapy. This happens with “a large number of patients,” Dr. Pandolofino says.

David Dewey, a 58-year-old real-estate developer in the Chicago suburbs, says hypnotherapy helped rid him of abdominal pain that sometimes kept him up at night. His doctor at Northwestern told him that his diagnosis of IBS was incorrect and that the real problem was related to his brain.

His doctor said, he recalls, “It sounds crazy, but we’ve been having great success with hypnotherapy.” He figured he had nothing to lose, since nothing else had helped for two years. The pain disappeared in under 10 sessions. “Sometimes it creeps back a little, and I just do one or two [home] sessions and it goes away,” Mr. Dewey says.

Olafur Palsson, a professor of medicine and clinical psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed the first script, or protocol, for hypnosis treatment for IBS in 1995. The script has been adapted for use in other GI disorders.

He has trained hundreds of therapists in the protocol, which he says 600 therapists across the country use today. Most professionals who conduct hypnotherapy treatments are psychologists. Shoba Krishnamurthy, a gastroenterologist at the University of Washington, got training and decided to incorporate it into her practice about three years ago.

“It’s mostly for patients who have had a work-up but we haven’t found anything abnormal in tests, so there is not a specific abnormality to treat,” she says. Ms. Blau, a 32-year-old who has been undergoing hypnotherapy at Mount Sinai, began the treatments in the fall, when her colitis was under control, as a preventive measure. It has remained that way. “I’ve been feeling really good,” she says.

By: Sumathi Reddy

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

Hypnotherapy for gastrointestinal problems

Hypnotherapy for gastrointestinal problems

Our stomachs and intestinal systems are like a second brain – it isn’t the seat of consciousness, but it does respond to hypnosis.

This “second brain” contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system.   This multitude of neurons in the enteric nervous system enables us to “feel” what is going on in the inner world of our gut.


Think of the phrases we commonly use: gut instinct; butterflies in the stomach; that makes me sick to the stomach; and gut wrenching. Hypnosis can influence this “second brain” as effectively as any other neurological process.

Hypnosis and Heartburn

At least 60,000,000 Americans suffer from heartburn, sometimes the medicines work, sometimes not so well. Recently medical doctors have been turning to complementary approaches like hypnotism. This short NBC news broadcast shows why instead of reaching for TUMS you might consider hypnosis instead or in addition.

Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a medical condition and a complex set of gastrointestinal symptoms – it may affect as many as 20% of the population in the United States.  Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea (or constipation), pain, and bloating. Over 60% of sufferers are women. IBS is actually the second likely reason reported for missed days at work.

Physicians will tell you they don’t know the causes of IBS: but they do know that IBS can be aggravated by stress and that there are some anatomical changes in the lining of the colon and to the nervous system of the colon associated with the condition. Diet can also influence IBS. Those who suffer from IBS know it is far more than a nuisance and can negatively impact quality of life.

The good news is that IBS symptoms respond to hypnosis and they often respond dramatically. Research is plentiful and convincing. It is so convincing that a leading health leader (Dr Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, chair of the National Women’s Health Network) has stated that “hypnosis should be the treatment of choice for all severe cases of IBS.”

I have had the privilege of working with cancer patients in the complementary care program at Women and Infants often getting great results helping them reduce anticipatory nausea with self-hypnosis.

NBC News 2017