Natural IBS Treatment: Hypnosis for IBS

Hypnosis: Natural IBS Treatment

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID).   Functional GI disorders tend to be characterized by recurrent and persistent GI symptoms such as abdominal fullness or bloating, cramping, and diarrhea and/or constipation.   IBS is the most common FGID and tends to effect the middle and lower digestive tract.  IBS sufferers tend to report discomfort, pain, and cramping in the adbominal and intestinal regions.  Patients who inquire with me about hypnosis for IBS have often exhausted standard, medical avenues of treatment.  I often hear about trying different gastroenterologist doctors and various medication treatment regimens – with limited results.  By the time they reach me, patients are hungry for a natural IBS treatment.  This is where IBS hypnotherapy comes in.

Mind-Body Interaction in IBS

IBS and FGIDs are examples of psychosomatic disorders.  Psychosomatic disorders are conditions with real, physiological symptoms and impacts that have a significant mind/mental/psychological component.  An applicable is that your body is an ‘instrument’ that your mind plays – the keys, pitches, chords, etc. are ‘in tune’ with your mental experiencing.   Your body will express physiologically mental and psychological experiences.  This means you might feel and express stress through your body.  Sometimes, emotions and physiological sensations will feel concordant – that is, they will be expressed together.  Other times, your body will express emotions that you may not consciously be in touch with.  Stress, depression, and anxiety are examples of psychosocial factors that directly impact the gut.  According to Harvard Medical School, mental states affect the gut in a number of different ways.  Psychological factors can affect gut contractions, increase susceptibility to infection, and worsen inflammation.  There is also research to suggest that people with FGIDs experience pain more acutely, and that stress increases this perceptual sensitivity to pain.   But there is good news!  What goes up can of course go down… and that is where psychotherapy, and in particular hypnosis, can be of help.  Ready to learn more about this effective natural IBS treatment?

Why Hypnosis for IBS?

Hypnosis is completely natural, easy to learn, utilizes your own mind towards healing, and does not have the side effects associated with medication.  Learn more about the state of hypnosis, facts and myths about hypnosis, and how the hypnotherapy process works in this blog post.

People are often surprised to learn that hypnosis is one of the more successful approaches to both medical and natural treatment for IBS.  Most research studies indicate that the response rate to treatment is approximately 80% and better.  Additionally, the IBS hypnotherapy treatment can help in cases where other treatments have failed to yield benefits (Palsson et al, 1997, 2000; Whorwell et al., 1984, 1987).  Furthermore, hypnosis for IBS can yield positive treatment effects long after the completion of the IBS hypnotherapy treatment process.

In 2015, a meta-analysis examined 30 years of IBS hypnotherapy research: 35 empirical studies, 17 of which were randomized control trials (RCTs).  The results were clear – professional utilization of clinical hypnosis for IBS generated superior results in comparison to standard medical treatment alone, for both children and adults. (American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 58(2), 134-158).

Here are additional findings, courtesy of my colleague in the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis David Alter, Ph.D.

  • Emerging research trends suggest the use of clinical hypnosis not only impacts the reported improvements levels of comfort and control over IBS symptoms. It also impacts measures of digestive functioning, such as gastric emptying rates (Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 47(12), 1480-1487).
  • Clinical hypnosis was found to yield not only symptom improvement in IBS sufferers, but to also generate significant reports of improvement in overall quality of life (Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 25(2), 169-186.)
  • When compared to psychoeducational interventions, the use of clinical hypnosis activated measurable changes in selected brain regions associated with reports of diminished reactivity to gut-related stimulation (Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 37(12), 1184-1197).

How does the IBS Hypnotherapy Treatment Process Work?

The sessions work in several ways.  First, they establish a pathway for hypnotic deepening and relaxation.  The hypnotic interventions focus heavily on somatoaffective grounding and containment – suggestions focus on discernible sensory and physiological experiencing, building positive sensation and mastery into the process.  This is an important part of reducing baseline physiological reactivity.  Why is this important?  If your average baseline level of distress on a SUDS scale is 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 (highest), it won’t take much for external stressors to trigger reactivity in your body.  On the other hand, as we are able to consistently and systematically reduce this reactivity, let’s say this number goes down to a 3 (or lower).  The reason that is significant is that subsequent mild to moderate daily stressors -an inevitable part of living – will be less likely to trigger your GI symptoms.  Think about it this way – everybody has ups and downs, positive and negative moments, relaxed and stressed, etc.  An image of this pattern might be like a wave.  The wave always maintains it’s structure, but the discernible difference in magnitude between a stormy ocean wave and a typical lake wave is striking.  As we help you develop healthier and consistent ways of being in your body in a peaceful and grounded way, you will be less likely to be as triggered during times of stress.

Second, the IBS hypnotherapy directly addresses your GI symptoms and physiology.  Hypnosis for IBS incorporates language (both words and vocal prosody) and imagery.   The hypnosis sessions feature both direct and indirect hypnotic suggestion.  Direct suggestion involves language that is specifically formulated for the GI symptoms associated with your IBS.  Hearing these kinds of suggestions, and hearing them in a repetitive way, promotes healing by seeding them in your mind in a way that you can hold onto.  Indirect suggestion is also an important part of this treatment process.  Here is where the narrative comes in.  Images and words that are metaphors for the change process help your unconscious internalize the therapeutic change.  In this way, hypnotic stories take you through a healing progression, helping you imagine a metaphoric parallel of healing that applies to both your current experiencing and imagined future experiencing.  The integration of direct and indirect hypnotic suggestion is an important part of hypnosis for IBS.

IBS Specialist Philadelphia: ‘Hypnosis for IBS Near Me’

I follow Dr. Olaf Palsson’s University of North Carolina IBS Hypnosis protocol – 7 standardized hypnosis sessions that have been empirically tested and supported through research.   As an approved provider of this treatment approach, I have been using it for over a decade.  After an thorough initial evaluation appointment, which includes an initial assessment questionnaire of IBS symptom severity, I offer 7 hypnosis for IBS treatment sessions.   Despite the standardization of the treatment process, I still believe it is important to utilize the subjective aspects of a patient’s identity, presenting concerns, goals, and history as part of the IBS hypnotherapy treatment.  Personally meaningful language is important, and I weave it into the sessions.  Each person’s relationship with food, and more importantly with themselves, is unique.

Ready to get started?


Eric Spiegel, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and practice director of Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group.  He is the President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) for 2018-2019, and has won numerous awards from ASCH, including their Early Career Achievement Award (2012).  Dr. Spiegel is the co-author of the book Attachment in Group Psychotherapy, published by the American Psychological Association.  He has also published journal articles and book chapters on subjects such as attachment therapy, hypnosis, group therapy, anxiety, trauma, and relationships.