Hypnotherapy for IBS

IBS hypnotherapy

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, or spastic colon) is a symptom-based diagnosis characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits. As a ‘functional’ bowel disorder, IBS has no known organic cause – the patient suffers symptoms but the doctor can’t see anything wrong.  These symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. However, commonly people have abdominal bloating, pain and cramping, diarrhoea, constipation, or bouts of both. A diagnosis of IBS can now be made on the basis of symptoms alone, and the onset of IBS is more likely to occur after an infection, a stressful life event, or onset of maturity. In the UK about 5% of men and 13% of women (symptoms sometimes worsening around menstruation time) suffer from IBS. More information is available from the NHS website.

IBS sufferers should always check with their GP, as symptoms can be shared with more serious conditions. IBS is normally diagnosed by ruling out all other conditions. Although causes are often unknown, psychological factors are commonly involved and fifty per cent of patients will date the onset of their symptoms to a significant life event, such as a job or house move, redundancy or bereavement. Ten to twenty per cent cite the onset of symptoms as due to an acute gastroenteritis, whilst in the remainder the trigger factor is unidentified. Studies have shown genetic predisposition in close relatives of IBS sufferers, even when the former show no symptoms of IBS themselves - suggesting that a trigger can set off IBS in susceptible people.  Stress certainly aggravates IBS - indeed, suffering from IBS can itself cause stress and anxiety. Some suffer from 'travel toilet anxiety' and will not travel without knowing the exact location of public toilets along their route. Many people find that symptoms are worsened by particular foods (see below) whereas in others this seems not to be a factor.


Hypnotherapy has a very good track record in dealing with the problem. Much research has been undertaken (in the UK particularly by Dr Peter Whorwell of the University of Manchester) on the use of hypnotherapy to treat IBS – motivated by the lack of effective conventional treatment available within the medical profession. It has been shown that under hypnosis people can influence their bodies in a way that reduces the contractions of their bowels, something not normally under conscious control. Their bowel lining can also become less sensitive to pain. Hypnotherapy can also address suggestions for coping with phobic anxiety concerned with a sufferer’s inability to reach a toilet in time by increasing confidence and a feeling of being in control.


Whorwell et al (1984 & 1987) reported successful treatment of IBS using hypnosis in a controlled study of a group of chronic sufferers who were randomly allocated to receive either psychotherapy or hypnotherapy. Whereas the psychotherapy group showed significant improvements, the hypnotherapy patients showed a dramatic improvement in all measurements and this improvement was still evident at a two-year reassessment. 

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recognised hypnotherapy as a possible treatment for IBS (PDF, here) - "Referral for psychological interventions (cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT], hypnotherapy and/or psychological therapy) should be considered for people with IBS who do not respond to pharmacological treatments after 12 months and who develop a continuing symptom profile (described as refractory IBS)". An overview of published research to date on hypnosis for IBS by Dr. Olafur S. Palsson can be found here

Hypnosis is only one of several approaches to treating irritable bowel syndrome and may not be the most suitable option for all patients. However, hypnosis treatment has some advantages which make it an attractive option for many IBS sufferers with chronic and severe symptoms:  

- It is one of the most successful treatment approaches for chronic IBS. The response rate to treatment is 80% and better in most published studies to date.  

- The treatment often helps individuals who have failed to get improvements with other methods (see for example: Whorwell et al., 1984, 1987; Palsson et al., 1997, 2000).  

- It is a uniquely comfortable form of treatment; relaxing, easy and generally enjoyable.  

- It utilises the healing power of the person's own mind, and is generally completely without negative side effects. 

- The treatment sometimes results in improvement in other symptoms or problems such as migraine or tension headaches, along with the improvement in IBS symptoms.

- The beneficial effects of the treatment last long after the end of the course of treatment. According to research, individuals who improve from hypnosis treatment for IBS can generally look forward to years of reduced bowel symptoms.




A change of diet will play an important part in controlling the symptoms of IBS. However, there is no 'one size fits all' diet for people with IBS. The diet that will work best for the sufferer will depend on their symptoms and how they react to different foods. h2 NATURAL HEALTH, based in Alyth near Blairgowrie, can offer clients in Perthshire, Dundee, Fife and Angus detailed dietary advice and food intolerance testing to complement a course of hypnotherapy. Please contact us to discuss this service.


Whorwell, P.J., Prior, A. and Faragher, E.B. (1984). Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable bowel syndrome. Lancet 2(8414), 1232-1243. 

Whorwell, P.J., Prior, A. and Colgan, S.M. (1987). Hypnotherapy in severe irritable bowel syndrome: Further experience. Gut 28(4), 423-425. 

Whorwell, Peter J. (2008). Hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome: The response of colonic and noncolonic symptoms. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol 64, p621, June 2008 

Palsson OS, Turner MJ, Johnson DA, Burnett CK, Whitehead WE. (2002). Hypnosis treatment for severe irritable bowel syndrome: investigation of mechanism and effects on symptoms. Dig Dis Sci 2002 Nov;47(11):2605-14.

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