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Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Hypnosis
by Geoffrey Knight
Geoffrey Knight
Do you put your troubles and worries into your gut? Some of us experience chronic upsets in our gastro-intestinal 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 a number of 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 suffer 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. Mike Mahoney is a hypnotherapist who has a practice in England dealing solely with IBS and is very well know 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 understand 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 and reframe it or change it. I can then proceed to teach them how to control their IBS, giving them methodologies on how to either speed up or slow down their digestive system. It is all about giving them insight into their unconscious feelings 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 gastro-intestinal system. I teach the client how their mind can influence peristalsis (the contractions of the digestive system) 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 putting him or herself into self-hypnosis.

We are fortunate in having in Portland a group of gastroenterological 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, and, under the auspices of their managing nurse Mrs. Gerri Pawson, they have set up a Support Group specifically for IBS sufferers. The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 pm at the St. Vincent’s medical center. Gerri Pawson can be contacted on 503 292 6452.

Geoffrey Knight is a clinical hypnotherapist and Director of the Knightsbridge Institute for Hypnotherapy and NLP. He is a Member of the Oregon Hypnotherapy Association. He can be reached at (503) 246-7300. Address: 3446 SW Alice St, Portland, OR 97219; E-mail, Web: