Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Evidence for the Effectiveness Of IBS Hypnosis

Mar 16, 2019 | Hypnotherapy Hypnosis and NLP | 0 comments

Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Evidence for the Effectiveness Of IBS Hypnosis

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common yet complicated condition that affects your digestive system. Typical symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and constipation, any of which may last from a day or so to much longer periods of time.

Perhaps the most frustrating element of IBS if you suffer with it, is that it is usually a lifelong problem with no known ‘cure’ and there is still no universally agreed understanding of what causes it.

I’ve worked with a lot of IBS sufferers and often stress and anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms yet IBS can also create its own anxiety. With IBS you may feel anxious about going places in case it strikes and may find yourself checking whether there are toilets available, avoiding going certain places if it would not be easy to get to a toilet or if there isn’t one easily available and sometimes even avoiding eating to hopefully be free from symptoms when out and about. It can start to place huge limits on your life and whilst conventional medical interventions such as medication, education and dietary changes may help to some degree, it may not provide relief for your IBS bowel symptoms (or ease the anxiety that goes with the symptoms).

When those traditional treatment approaches do not alleviate IBS symptoms, many people turn to treatments such as hypnotherapy for their irritable bowel syndrome. So, how effective is hypnotherapy for IBS?


Hypnosis For IBS – The Evidence of Therapeutic Effects

IBS can vary in its severity from episode to episode and from person to person. There can be pain issues, physical bloating or abdominal tightness, bowel dysfunction such as constipation or diarrhoea and an impact on your quality of life and sense of well-being.

One way of assessing the severity of your IBS is to use the five questions ‘irritable bowel severity scoring system’ developed by Francis et al (1996, reference below). This system asks you to consider specific elements associated with IBS and to rate them on a scale of 0-10. The elements include, based on the previous ten days, how severe your abdominal pain has been, how severe your abdominal distension (bloating, swollen or tight) has been, how satisfied you have been with your bowel habit (frequency, ease, etc.) and how much your IBS has been affecting/interfering with your life in general. Using the scoring system can help assess whether your IBS is mild, moderate or severe (and can then be used to measure therapeutic progress by comparing before and after treatment).


hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome ibs hypnosis ely


To consider the evidence for the therapeutic benefits of hypnosis for IBS, Whitehead (2006, reference below) looked at the results of eleven studies, including five controlled studies, that have assessed the therapeutic effects of hypnosis for IBS.

In his overall conclusion he writes, “hypnosis has been reported to be successful in impacting IBS symptoms in all the 11 outcome studies published to date. Where success rates have been reported, they have ranged from 61% to 100%…with a median success rate of 87%.”

Here we have a really impressive application of hypnosis to make a real difference in the lives of IBS sufferers. Whilst there is always scope for more and bigger samples and research, Whitehead goes on to say that it “appears clear from these high rates of success that the great majority of IBS patients treated with hypnosis enjoy marked improvements. This is a strikingly high degree of success considering the fact that most of these studies have documented that they only enrolled subjects who had already failed standard medical treatment, and many of the treated patients had already tried multiple other interventions without benefit.

So, these impressive enough results already become even more impressive as they were with people who had failed to find relief when using other treatments.

As if this wasn’t enough to demonstrate the efficacy of hypnosis for IBS, Whitehead also goes on to write that,

In addition to changes in bowel symptoms, the studies that have measured their outcomes have consistently found anxiety, depression, somatization, and the number of extra-intestinal symptoms to also be substantially reduced after treatment and quality of life scores to be enhanced.”

This is perhaps unsurprising albeit it is excellent news for IBS sufferers. Hypnotherapy is effective at reducing anxiety and distress which is likely to have a positive impact on IBS symptoms (as anxiety and stress can exacerbate them), and in easing IBS symptoms themselves, a person is likely to feel more positive and feel better in their daily life.

In his final conclusion on all the evidence he writes, “these studies report consistent IBS symptom reduction that is very substantial, is associated with broad improvement in psychological well-being and life functioning, can be just as readily achieved by patients who have not had relief from standard medical care, and may generally be expected to last for years.

Or as my daughter would say in response to something really good…boom! Outstanding evidence for the use of hypnosis for IBS treatment.


More of the Efficacy of Hypnotherapy for IBS

As if that review and evidence of therapeutic benefit wasn’t enough, a separate review also looked at the evidence for hypnosis for IBS. Tan et al. (2005, reference below) looked at fourteen published studies (overlapping the above described research) and concluded that “hypnosis consistently produces significant results and improves the cardinal symptoms of IBS in the majority of patients. The studies also show that hypnosis positively affects non-colonic symptoms, emotional well-being, ability to work, and quality of life of the patients suffering from IBS. Furthermore, research has supported the ability of these positive effects to be sustained over a considerable period of time.

The research then goes on to state that hypnotic treatment of IBS should be accepted in medicine and psychology as an evidence-based practice. And whilst the exact mechanism by which hypnosis alleviates IBS symptoms has yet to be categorically identified, it seems clear that hypnosis can and does help sufferers of IBS to achieve positive outcomes.

Furthermore, similar positive results can be achieved by using hypnosis via Skype where it isn’t possible to meet in person with a hypnotherapist (perhaps due to the severity of IBS symptoms making it difficult to travel).

Hasan et al (2019, reference below) looked into the effectiveness of hypnotherapy via skype. Their study demonstrated that Skype hypnotherapy is highly effective, “when Skype and traditionally delivered hypnotherapy were compared, there was no significant difference in outcomes, although it did appear that Skype hypnotherapy might be marginally less effective than face to face treatment.”

In their study, the Skype hypnotherapy had an impact on all the individual symptoms associated with IBS as well as improving non-colonic symptoms, quality of life, anxiety and depression issues. As I have outlined above, they also comment on how many (or the majority as they describe it) of people with severe IBS show a degree of anxiety and hypnosis can also help to reduce the anxious thoughts and feelings.

IBS can be a particularly debilitating and, for some people, embarrassing issue that can cause real distress, upset and anxiety. However, as these research studies and reviews clearly demonstrate, hypnosis can be a real help in alleviating symptoms and in easing the associated anxiety.

To your success,

Dan Regan 

Hypnotherapy for IBS in Ely & Newmarket

Seeking help to alleviate your IBS symptoms? Book your Complimentary Hypnotherapy Strategy Session with Dan now: Appointments

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Whitehead, W.E., 2006. Hypnosis for irritable bowel syndrome: the empirical evidence of therapeutic effects. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(1), pp.7-20.

Hasan, S.S., Pearson, J.S. and Whorwell, P.J., 2019. SKYPE HYPNOTHERAPY FOR IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME: Effectiveness and Comparison with Face-to-Face Treatment. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

Tan, G., Hammond, D.C. and Gurrala, J., 2005. Hypnosis and irritable bowel syndrome: a review of efficacy and mechanism of action. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 47(3), pp.161-178.

 Francis, C.Y., Morris, J. and Whorwell, P.J., 1997. The irritable bowel severity scoring system: a simple method of monitoring irritable bowel syndrome and its progress. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 11(2), pp.395-402.



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