A study in Sweden found that hypnotherapy can help many people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) alleviate their symptoms.

Perjohan Lindfors, a doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy, the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, came to this conclusion in a thesis titled “Implementation of gut-directed hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome in clinical practice.”

Lindfors believes hypnotherapy should become standard practice for patients with severe IBS.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colitis, mucus colitis and nervous colon syndrome, is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that causes bloating, irregular bowel habits, abdominal pain, mucous in stools, and alternating constipation and diarrhea. This chronic condition, in most cases, tends to wax and wane over the years.

According to public health authorities, between 10% to 15% of the Swedish population suffer from varying degrees of IBS. UK and USA health authorities say that between 10% to 20% of their populations suffer from some form of IBS.

Nobody yet knows what causes IBS, and there are no effective treatments for patients with severe symptoms.

Research at Sahgrenks Academy demonstrated that hypnosis may offer effective and lasting relief.

Lindfors said:

“We have four different studies showing that hypnotherapy helps treat IBS, even when the treatment is not provided by highly specialized hypnotherapy centers. The treatment improves gastrointestinal symptoms and quality of life, and patient satisfaction is very high. The method also makes efficient use of health care resources.”

The patient enters a state of deep relaxation and receives customized hypnotic suggestions. Hypnotherapy teaches them how to control their unpleasant symptoms, either by focusing on them or doing the opposite – diverting their attention onto something else.

Thesis 1, involving two studies

In one study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Lindfors and team explain that gut-directed hypnotherapy is known to have an effect on alleviating the symptoms of IBS. However, this has never been proven scientifically in a randomized, controlled study outside a specialized research center.

The team set out to determine how effective gut-directed hypnotherapy might be for IBS patients in different clinical settings, not inside the traditional research units.

The patients in both studies had not responded to standard therapy.

  • In Study 1 – 90 patients were randomly selected to either receive 12 sessions of gut-directed hypnotherapy once a week in psychology private practices, or supportive therapy.
  • In Study 2 – 48 patients received either gut-directed hypnotherapy in a small county hospital, while some served as controls and were on a waiting list.

The researchers evaluated their gastrointestinal symptoms severity and quality of life at the start of the study, then at three months, and finally after one year.

The following results were reported:

  • Patients receiving gut-directed hypnotherapy in both groups experienced symptom improvements at three months
  • None of the patients in the control groups (not receiving hypnotherapy) experienced improvement in symptoms at three months
  • Those in the first study had greater improvements than the controls, compared to the two groups in the second study
  • The improvements at three months in the hypnotherapy groups were sustained up to the end of the study (12 months)

The researchers concluded “Gut-directed hypnotherapy is an effective treatment alternative for patients with refractory IBS, but the effectiveness is lower when the therapy is given outside the highly specialized research.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist