Ericksonian Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS is really a diagnosis of exclusion. It is not an inflammatory disease and often does not show up with diagnostic testing. In order to arrive at a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it is important to rule out ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, which is relieved with a bowel movement. It is also associated with a change in frequency and consistency of the stools. For most people, the symptoms of IBS involve cramping, pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Although the syndrome can cause a great feeling of discomfort, it does not permanently harm the intestines nor does it lead to serious disease. Some people can control the symptoms with certain medications and stress reduction, but there are other people however, for whom the symptoms of IBS can be disabling.

IBS can occur at any age but often begins during the teenage years or in early adulthood. Twice as many women have it as do men. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, bloating and gas that have been present for at least three days a week for three months. People with IBS often switch between constipation and diarrhea or mostly have one or the other.

It is not always clear why people develop IBS. One important factor is to understand that the intestines are highly connected to the brain neurologically. Signals go back-and-forth between the bowel and the brain all the time. These signals affect the functioning of the bowel and can heighten the symptoms and awareness of pain and bloating. The nervous system becomes more active when there is stress, causing the intestines to become increasingly sensitive and contract more. People with IBS can be overly responsive to even the slightest conflict or stress. Stress and anxiety can make a person more aware of sensations that arise in the colon. This awareness itself can lead to greater anxiety and discomfort. So the stress and symptom go- back and forth through the nervous system. This is the “gut feeling” taken to the extreme.

Ericksonian hypnosis for IBS and Dr. Olafur Palsson’s IBS Protocol.

My approach to treatment for IBS incorporates Ericksonian hypnosis along with Dr. Palsson’s IBS protocol. There are several steps in this process.

  • The first step is to encourage physical relaxation and a decrease of stress and anxiety. This is done by an induction into a very calm and relaxed state.
  • As the client begins to feel more relaxed, suggestions are made for her to drift down into an even deeper experience of calm and comfort so that she can begin to learn the sensation of deep relaxation without stress or anxiety.
  • The next step consists of using Ericksonian metaphors that encourage the client to dissociate from the discomfort that she is experiencing.
  • When the client is fully relaxed and in a deep state of comfort and well-being, suggestions are made to encourage changes in the way the G.I. tract functions. This can lead to a decrease in the IBS discomfort and symptoms. Not only do the symptoms of intestinal pain, cramping or bloating diminish, but the client also becomes less aware and less bothered by the symptoms. As the client’s attention moves away from the symptoms, the bowel pains begin to fade away.
  • Finally, there are suggestions for increased health and comfort as the intestines become less and less reactive to irritation, stress, anxiety and upsetting events in life.

Ericksonian hypnosis is a very powerful approach that helps most people who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) find greater comfort and relief from pain and discomfort. Dr. Palsson’s IBS protocol is very effective for a great number of people. However, there are always some who will not respond to this treatment, That protocol is limited to 8 sessions, once a week or every other week. The benefits are usually noticed after the 2nd or 3rd session. By the last session, there should be noticeable improvement in the symptoms with long-lasting results.

Brigitte E. Lifschitz, LCSW
Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist
Past President and Former Co-Director of Hypnosis Training at the
New York Milton H. Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis (NYSEPH).
EMDR Levels 1&2.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
January, 2015