Do you put your troubles and worries into your gut? Some of us experience chronic upsets in our gastrointestinal tract that range from inconvenient and annoying to totally debilitating. When there is no obvious physical or microbial cause, these symptoms are lumped under the general heading of Irritable Bowel Syndrome abbreviated to “IBS.” This is
a common disorder worldwide, and IBS affects 14-24% of women and 5-19% of men. IBS is more a descriptive heading than a diagnosis, because it can be caused by so many factors and can express itself in so many different ways. Many doctors in general practice make the mistake of trying to treat the overt symptoms rather than seeking out the underlying causes.
Symptoms often begin during periods of major stress such as a divorce, death of a loved one or school exams. Symptoms may also follow a gastrointestinal infection or abdominal surgery. Food allergies may play a role, as can reactions to drugs taken for other conditions. The most common symptoms that IBS patients complain of are: frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain (usually in the lower abdomen area), gas, bloating, diarrhea alternating with constipation, mucus in the stool, and bowel urgency or incontinence. Upper GI symptoms include heartburn or acid indigestion and nausea.
IBS rules the lives of some patients and can be very debilitating. It affects their family, home and work life, and can deprive family members and partners, as well as the sufferer, of a normal life. I know of one lady sufferer of IBS who has made a point of knowing every public, hotel and store restroom in Portland for use in case of an emergency.
There is a strong connection between your central nervous system and your gut. You know when you have an urge to go to the bathroom, but, equally, you can suppress the urge to go when you have to remain in an important meeting. Acute anxiety or stress often results in diarrhea, but it is only when it becomes chronic that you suspect IBS. The emotional influences behind IBS are often linked to issues around self-esteem, self-confidence and self-respect. They may express themselves as anxiety, panic attacks, depression or eating disorders, or can result in the diarrhea/constipation seesaw of IBS.
Hypnotherapy is one of a number of therapies that may alleviate or even eliminate IBS. I know of an English hypnotherapist called Mike Mahoney who has a practice in England dealing solely with IBS and is very well known for his skill in this one area. Over a two-year period between 1995-1997, he was involved in a controlled research project with a medical practice, treating IBS with hypnosis. All the patients involved in the study had been diagnosed with IBS for over two years. The youngest was 9 and the oldest 74. The results showed an improvement of about 80% in severity and frequency of symptoms. Six months after the project ended, the patients’ stabilization continued and many reported an increased improvement.
When I use hypnotherapy in treating IBS, the first thing I do is to try to find and uncover the underlying cause of the clients’ IBS. In most cases the unconscious mind in deep hypnosis will reveal this cause. I then address this cause, reframe it or change it, and proceed to teach them to control their IBS. I give them methodologies on how to either speed up or slow down their digestive system. It is all about giving them the insight and confidence to manage their own digestive system; the power of the mind can take control of the nervous system, which in turn controls their gastrointestinal system. I teach the client about peristalsis (the contractions of the digestive system) and how their mind can take over and make the necessary changes so that the whole system ‘flows’ in a normal manner. The direct suggestions given in session are then reinforced on a regular basis by the client’s putting him or herself into self-hypnosis.
We are fortunate in having in Portland a group of gastroenterology physicians and surgeons who do embrace the fact that hypnosis is one of the ways of treating IBS. They can be found at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Medical Center.