Hypnosis IBS Research

Clinical research on Hypnosis and IBS is one of the few better researched areas in Hypnosis by the medical community. Naturally even deeper research would be welcomed here as in all areas in which hypnotherapy is being successfully applied.

However, as a result of research already completed we can conclude the following:

1. Hypnosis is very effective in bringing IBS symptoms under control

2. The positive results of hypnotherapy treatment are long lasting.

3. Individual hypnotherapy sessions are more effective for a greater number of people than home tape sessions alone.

1. Hypnosis is very effective in bringing IBS symptoms under control.
The original study that brought this to the attention of the medical world remains one of the most thorough in the field to date. In it Whorwell, Prior, and Faragher (Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome. The Lancet 1984, 2: 1232-4) compared two groups of 15 patients who could not receive relief for the IBS symptoms with traditional methods. One group received hypnotherapy sessions and the other psychotherapy plus placebo pills. The psychotherapy group showed small but significant improvement in abdominal pain and distension, and in general well being but not bowel activity pattern The hypnotherapy patients showed a dramatic improvement in all central symptoms and no relapse during the 3 month follow up.

Evidence to support these findings has now been provided by a number of other independent researchers. For example, Vukic, (Hypnotherapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: methods and results in Amsterdam. Scand J Gastrenterol Suppl, 1999, 230:49-51) reported that the 24 out 27 patients who completed the hypnotherapy treatment were found to improve. Galovski and Blanchard (The treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with hypnotherapy. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 1998, Dec, 23:4, 219-32) reported that all eleven patients who completed hypnotherapy improved as well as improvement in anxiety. Those in the control group for comparison do not show such improvement while waiting for treatment.

The largest case series reported on to-date is one carried out by Gonsalkorale, Houghton and Whorwell in the UK (Hypnotherapy in irritable bowel syndrome: a large scale audit of clinical service with examination of factors influencing responsiveness. Am J Gastroenterol 2002 Apr:97(4):954-61). In this study 250 unselected IBS patients were treated in a UK clinic. Each patient received 12 sessions of hypnotherapy over a three month period along with home practice sessions in-between. Significant improvement was reported in all IBS symptoms, quality of life, as well as for anxiety and depression. All sub-groups appeared do to equally as well except for males with diarrhea who improved less than the other patients for some unknown reason.

2. The positive results of hypnotherapy treatment are long lasting. Gonsalkorale, Miller, Afzal and Whorwell (Long term benefits of hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome. Gut 2003 Nov:52(11):1623-9) had 204 patients treated with a course of hypnotherapy complete questionnaires in which they scored symptoms, quality of life, anxiety, and depression before, immediately after and up to six years following treatment. The results indicated that for most patients the benefits of hypnotherapy last at least five years.

3. Individual hypnotherapy sessions are more effective for a greater number of people than home tape sessions alone.
In a study conducted by Palsson, Turner and Whitehead (Hypnosis home treatment for irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot study. Int. J Clin Exp Hypn. 2006 Jan: 54(1):85-99) 53% (10 out of 19) patients had responded positively to the taped sessions. This was far better than the control group (26% reported improvement). However it is much lower than the results reported for those receiving one on one hypnotherapy sessions.

4. Uniquivocal Scientific Proof that Hypnosis is Effective for IBS

Hypnotherapy has been investigated for 30 years as a treatment for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. There are presently 35 studies in the published empirical literature, including 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that have assessed clinical outcomes of such treatment.

This body of research is reviewed comprehensively in the  article identified below. Twenty-four of the studies have tested hypnotherapy for adult irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and 5 have focused on IBS or abdominal pain in children. All IBS hypnotherapy studies have reported significant improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, and 7 out of 10 RCTs in adults and all 3 RCTs in pediatric patient samples found superior outcomes for hypnosis compared to control groups.

Collectively this body of research shows unequivocally that for both adults and children with IBS, hypnosis treatment is highly efficacious in reducing bowel symptoms and can offer lasting and substantial symptom relief for a large proportion of patients who do not respond adequately to usual medical treatment approaches.

Am J Clin Hypn. 2015 Oct;58(2):134-58. doi: 10.1080/00029157.2015.1039114.
Hypnosis Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of the Empirical Evidence.
Palsson OS1.

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