Gut-directed hypnotherapy has recently emerged as a promising approach to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in people with IBS. These symptoms include things like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation During a session of gut-directed hypnotherapy the therapist provides suggestions for the control and normalisation of gastrointestinal function to the subconscious part of the mind. This includes metaphors like swallowing down medicine and imagining that this medicine provides healing and protection to the gastrointestinal tract. It differs from other psychological therapies given they’re aimed at the conscious mind.
Multiple well-controlled studies, including our own work here at Monash University, have shown that gut-directed hypnotherapy improves gastrointestinal symptoms in people with IBS by 70-80% and these improvements are maintained in the long-term.
Nonetheless, we don’t understand exactly how gut-directed hypnotherapy works other than to say that it has multiple potential mechanisms of action on the brain-gut axis. For example, gut-directed hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms by improving motility (i.e. the speed of transit of food through the digestive tract) and reducing sensitivity. It has also been shown to improve psychological functioning by reducing levels of stress, anxiety and depression and enhancing overall quality of life.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of all is that gut-directed hypnotherapy is equally as effective in terms of improving gastrointestinal symptoms as the low FODMAP diet. This means that people can get the same level of symptom control without having to change what they eat. Impressive huh?
This combined evidence suggests that gut-directed hypnotherapy may be suitable as a primary therapy in some people with IBS.