Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

irritable bowel syndrome affects menIrritable bowel syndrome affects woman

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic (long-term) disorder that affects the digestive system. It causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation. There are different types of IBS, depending on your main symptom. It’s known by a variety of other names, including spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis, nervous diarrhoea, nervous colon and nervous or functional bowel. However, some of these names misrepresent the condition. Colitis, for example, is an inflammation of the colon and this symptom isn’t found in people with IBS.

The symptoms of IBS can fluctuate. There may be times when your symptoms are particularly troublesome and times when you experience no symptoms at all. Although IBS poses no serious threat to health, it can have an adverse effect on a person’s quality of life. The exact causes of IBS are unknown.

Check it out with your doctor first

If you have not had your bowel checked out by doctors before seeing a hypnotherapist then please do so before making an appointment. It is not the responsibility of the therapist to make a diagnosis, and all possibilities need to be ruled out beforehand.

Dr Peter Whorwell at Manchester’s Withington Hospital uses hypnotherapy to help his IBS patients. He maintains that hypnotherapy is effective in the treatment for two reasons, one is it lowers anxiety and two, it acts as pain management, and decreases the sensitivity in the gut. NICE has recommended hypnotherapy for the treatment of IBS.

How common is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions. It is estimated that 10-20% of the UK’s population is affected by IBS at any one time, although this figure may be higher because many people with the condition do not report their symptoms to their GP.

IBS is twice as common in women as it is in men. The condition normally develops in people who are between 20 and 30 years of age, but it can affect people of any age.

While there is no cure for IBS, the symptoms can be controlled with lifestyle changes and medicine.


  • Abdominal pain and spasm
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloated stomach
  • Rumbling noises and wind
  • Urgency – a need to rush and open the bowels
  • A feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowels
  • Incontinence if a toilet is not nearby
  • A sharp pain felt low down inside the rectum
  • Nausea, belching and vomiting


Hypnosis and visualisation can help reduce the stress that causes the bowel to want to expel all the waste in the way that it does. The more relaxed you are about life in general the less likely you are to suffer IBS. Stress can also affect the gut flora, which in turn can create IBS. So number one priority is stress reduction and to use visualisation to ease the bowel movement.

Solution-focused therapy

By focusing on how you want things to be instead of worrying about the problem the whole time, you can start reducing the anxiety and motivate oneself to make changes needed.

CBT to help Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Cognitive behavioural therapy can help understand the thought processes which are driving the Irritable bowel syndrome. Often it can start with an incident such as having diarrhoea whilst on a coach or bus with no toilets and so our minds latch onto that thought and obsess about being in control of the situation. Sometimes seeing what thoughts are driving the stress can help change them, and focus on more helpful thoughts, for example, that may have been true at the time, but time changes and it’s unlikely to be like that anymore.


Mindfulness can be very useful for when faced with the stressful situation helps control the stress, the breathing or the reactions. I often teach a number of different mindfulness exercises to people depending on what they are doing.

Nutritional therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Nutritional therapy can look at a person’s diet to see if anything could be making it worse. Often disturbed gut flora can make the person experience wind, constipation and diarrhoea and by removing certain foods and add in others can help change the pattern of the problem.

The number of sessions it takes is down to the individual, I’ve seen people take care of it within 5 sessions, others 20. It depends on the personal circumstances and how they can make the changes around them that are causing the anxiety that drives the IBS.

The randomised trial by Dr Whorwell can be found here

Nice recommend using hypnotherapy for IBS, and it’s recommendations can be found here

Case study 1

Ray works in the construction industry. He has had IBS for over 20 years and travelling was difficult. It took so much time planning every trip and going on holiday was a nightmare. He also had it bad when having to do courses or speaking to colleagues at conferences. He was diagnosed with IBS and was given some medication but it didn’t have much success.

When discussing the brain and how stress affects the gut, he identified with what was being said and was willing to try to defeat it using his mind.

At the first session Ray was slightly worried about the therapy and maybe wanting to use the toilet on the way, during and on the way home, but he soon relaxed and settled down. I taught him mindfulness of breath and relaxation on the couch. He scaled himself as a 2.

Rapid improvement

The second session, he was a 4. Ray felt so much better, the CD was working well. He felt more confident and positive. He used a toilet less during the day and had stopped worrying about his journey to and from work altogether.

By session 4 he had improved to a 6 and was actually looking forward to his holiday. He also had a course to go to and wasn’t worried about that either.

Session 6, he’d been away and had been on the course where he was able to stand up and talk to members of his industry with no problems at all, he was totally confident on controlling it in the future.

Case Study 2

Maggie works as a PA for the local fire service, her job was quite stressful. There is a lot of administrative work and she is the only woman in an office of men. She is experiencing irritable bowel every time she goes away, especially when flying. After explaining a bit about the connection between the brain and the gut, she agrees she needs to do something about it. Consequently, she confines herself to coach travel but would like to fly. Her son lives in Scotland. However, she was spending the weekend in the toilet.

Over the moon

3 weeks in and she was noticing her IBS was better generally. Going shopping had previously brought on occasional bouts but these were now subsiding. She was sleeping better and actually enjoying work for a change. By week 5 she was over the moon, her work had improved, her sleeping had improved and she finally had control over the IBS, she just relaxed more. She was consistently an 8. We decided at this point to see each other on a fortnightly basis.

By the end of therapy, she was doing really well and felt that she could maintain it. She’d been on another journey, this time to see an old friend, and she’d had a fantastic time. We saw each other another 2 sessions 4 weeks apart. About a year later I learnt she too had trained in hypnotherapy for her own interest and development.