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How does Hypnotherapy help I.B.S.?

  Hypnotherapy has been shown to be very effective in helping people with irritable bowel syndrome (I.B.S.) for nearly 30 years. I.B.S. seems to be open to treatment with hypnosis because it is not caused by any physical or structural damage to the gastrointestinal tract but is thought to arise from alterations in gut movements and sensitivity. These changes are susceptible to modulation by the mind.

  In Hypnotherapy a specially trained therapist induces hypnosis, which is a natural safe state of mind, usually by talking to you gently. The feeling is of comfortable, relaxed altered awareness, rather like day-dreaming. In this relaxed state you are more able to accept and create positive suggestions to help your well-being. During hypnosis you will be aware of where you are and what is going on and usually hear every word the therapist says. The process is a long way from stage hypnosis and you are treated with respect and compassion. Janet Tomlin is an experienced Hypnotherapist who specialises in helping people with I.B.S., an area where conventional medicine often struggles.

  Hypnotherapy improves the misery of I.B.S. in a number of ways. Hypnosis promotes relaxation and reduces stress, which is usually very beneficial. Many people find their I.B.S. flares up when they feel tense or stressed and learning better coping mechanisms can help to ameliorate this. A number of studies have shown that hypnotherapy helps decrease both the sensitivity in the gut and the patterns of muscle contraction, and also alters the way gut pain is perceived by the brain. It can help people feel in control of their illness and find new, less negative ways to respond to their symptoms.

  The medical field recognises that hypnotherapy for I.B.S. can be an effective way to treat and prevent pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, gas, and bloating.

Current N.I.C.E. Clinical Guidelines, which GPs use to help them decide the most appropriate treatments, state that

“Hypnotherapy should be considered for patients with IBS diagnosed for more than 12 months duration.”

( National Institute for Clinical Excellence ) (2008, updated 2015).  


I use techniques based on those of the specialist Hypnotherapy Unit of the South Manchester Functional Bowel Service where gut-directed hypnotherapy was developed. Therapy involves a course of 4-6 one-hour sessions over 2-3 months. These may be followed by 'top-up' sessions at regular intervals to ensure continued relief.

Evidence for the benefits of Hypnotherapy in IBS

 An audit of the first 250 patients treated in the specialist unit in Manchester was published in 2002. It found that a course of hypnotherapy improved bowel habit in 78% of people. Link to this scientific paper .

 One particular advantage of hypnotherapy is that rather than relieving a single symptom, it has been shown to help many features of the condition, including quality of life and psychological distress. Interestingly, it also relieves the additional symptoms from which so many people with IBS suffer such as nausea, lethargy, backache, and urinary problems. This is in sharp contrast to the medications currently available for I.B.S., which often help one or two symptoms, if at all.

The following is part of a transcript from a BBC Radio 4 “Case Notes” programme about I.B.S. featuring Prof. Peter Whorwell, broadcast on 4 September 2007.

… “I’m Peter Whorwell, professor of medicine and gastroenterology.

I run the Hypnotherapy and Irritable Bowel Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester...

  When thinking about irritable bowel you have to remember that there’s a person around that bowel, and if that person is distressed then the bowel is going to reflect that stress. There’s no doubt that hypnosis does help stress. But we’re pretty certain that hypnosis does more than that, and we feel that we are actually teaching the patient to control gut function.

  We’ve shown that the lining of the gut becomes much less sensitive after hypnosis, because one of the problems in I.B.S. is that the gut is over-sensitive. We’ve also shown that the contractions in the gut (when the muscles in the gut contract it gives you the pain), we’ve shown that those contractions or spasms of the gut can also be decreased by hypnosis.

  And there’s evidence now that the way the brain processes pain coming up to it from various parts of the body can be modified by hypnosis.

  So there’s a mounting body of evidence now that hypnosis can actually change the physiology of the body in a positive way.”

  A subsequent BBC news report in March 2010 dealt with an audit of the use of hypnotherapy in IBS by Dr Roland Valori of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. He found that symptoms stopped completely in four in 10 cases with typical IBS and in a further five in ten cases patients reported feeling more in control of their symptoms and therefore much less troubled by them. Hypnotherapy improved symptoms significantly for nine of 10 patients and he concluded, "It is pretty clear to me that it has an amazing effect".

  The Manchester Unit published a scientific paper in 2003 describing how the beneficial effects of hypnotherapy on IBS appear to be sustained over time - patients continued reporting relief from symptoms for at least 5 years ( Gut , vol.52, pp 1623-1629 ).

  There are many other papers which provide evidence of the value of Hypnotherapy on IBS. They are published in scientific journals and so have to report their results in an unbiased way. A systematic review of published reports has been conducted to assess the efficacy of Hypnotherapy in IBS (published in the American Journal of Hypnosis in 2005). It concluded that, hypnotherapy qualifies for the highest level of acceptance as being both effective and specific in IBS according to the clinical psychology division of the American Psychological Association guidelines.

  I am happy to help you find information on aspects of IBS and Hypnotherapy that interest you. It can be difficult to access many of the scientific journals mentioned above. Please email me at on if I can help you in any way.

NICE (2008) Guidelines on IBS;

Click here to find out more about Janet 

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