By Michael Mahoney

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a heterogeneous condition with varying severity and symptomology. At least one in four of the general population is affected at some time in their lives (Jones 1992, Harvey 1983, Cook 1987). Despite the condition being classed as ‘non-serious’, it has serious cost implications to the UK National Health Service and Health Insurance Providers throughout the world, due to frequent presentations to general practitioners, hospital physicians and other specialist services (Talley 1995). The diagnosis is often reached by exclusion of diagnosable physical abnormalities and organic disease (Latimer 1983). But according the World Health Organization (1979), “health, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right”

As a clinical hypnotherapist I have taken great interest in the management of this disorder as I have experienced the distress and frustration this client group feel in the search for relief from symptoms which have a severe impact on their lifestyle. With conventional medical treatment being of little proven benefit (Houghton 1996) there is a need to look beyond treating the symptoms to addressing the cause. In the holistic view of illness, physical disease is only one of several manifestations of basic imbalance of the organism, other manifestations may take the form of psychological and social pathologies (Capra 1983 p131).

The fact is that holistic approach to medical and psychological care is required in the management of IBS, but that the psychological aspect is not universally accepted by the medical profession or the client group with clients feeling there is a stigma attached to this aspect of care. As a clinical Hypnotherapist I have an impact on these management issues as facilitator addressing the human response to this disorder, whereas physicians address the treatment of the disorder.

IBS is an extremely common digestive disorder accounting for up to 50% of all cases seen by gastroenterologists (Harvey 1983). Of those that present in western society women outnumber men 4:1.

IBS is defined as a “functional bowel disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with defecation or change in bowel habit, and with features of disordered defecation and with distension (Thompson et al 1992). However there is multiple symptomology that is associated with this complex disorder which is not always mentioned in standard textbooks. Upper gastroenterology symptoms including nausea, vomiting, early satiety are common (Farthing 1995). Extra bowel manifestations include urological symptoms (Jones 1992), fatigue backache, headache and gynaecological symptoms (Longstreth 1995) often precipitating multiple specialist referrals to exclude organic cause. Many women undergo diagnostic laparoscopy or even hysterectomy (Langstreth 1995). Inappropriate surgery in the form of cholecystectomy and appendectomy has also been reported.

Many suggestions are made as to on setting causes of IBS such as stress factors, enteric infection or surgical intervention all of which have been found to increase visceral hypersensitivity. Even antibiotics, or trauma have been suggested as triggers.


The medical profession cannot be sure of the causes, nor have they suitable treatment for the condition, new drugs which may be effective in some individuals are mainly prohibitively expensive for sufferers. Hypnotherapy in the UK and elsewhere has been shown to help in the vast majority of cases of IBS sufferers. The writer is aware of at least one hospital gastroenterology department with its own hypnotherapy team alongside.

Hypnotherapy is non intrusive, safe, comfortable and a cost effective and complementary to use along side mainstream medicine, some in the profession would in this case argue ‘alternative’ since the medical profession are generally at a loss with this condition. Having conducted a private medical research project at the invitation of a medical centre, and subsequently private patient trails in specifically designed hypnotherapy processes, the IBS Audio Program 100™ is now used by sufferers in over 37 countries and is gut specific©

As a specialist in this area, the understanding that sufferers have the need for understanding, and an empathetic approach is clear. Sufferers who consider hypnotherapy currently tend to do so as a ‘last resort’ rather than a first approach after diagnosis. The medical profession are becoming more aware of the benefits of hypnotherapy. As a medical centre based practitioner my hypnotherapy practices receives referrals from general practitioners, gastroenterologists and specialist gastro nurses.

Just dealing with the symptoms of IBS is not enough, the individual has to learn to rebuild internal energy, many sufferers feel drained emotionally, life issues and responsibilities continue to deplete inner emotional strength, leading in some cases to anxiety or even some forms of depression. Before the sufferer even thinks of working through the IBS, they invariably need an emotional ‘top up’, they need their batteries charged, after perhaps years of pain and discomfort, of being told by various medical professionals that there is nothing that can be done, even though intrusive and sometimes painful examinations have been undergone, many sufferers feel emotionally drained. Work and family relationships can be eroded and strained, social life and love life can be virtually non-existent, concentration and recall, may be almost impossible compared to how it used to be, confidence and self esteem of the individual is often very low, and the ability to see things in perspective is greatly reduced. Therefore to tell a sufferer that they must do this or that, without preparing for the journey is almost certain failure.

Hypnotherapy, when conducted correctly can increase self-esteem, confidence, and allow the sufferer to begin a journey of self improvement and management, by changing their thoughts, changing negative thoughts and feelings for positive ones and thereby equip themselves emotionally to move away from the symptoms and thoughts of IBS and begin moving forward, a journey that many sufferers have or are taking at this moment, with positive changes. It is important to mention that IBS is a complicated condition affecting both mind and body. Like all conditions IBS should only be treated by therapists who have a clear understanding of the presenting condition.

Michael Mahoney is a medical centre based clinical Hypnotherapist who has been in practice since 1986. He is principle trainer of the Register of IBS Therapists, and an associate member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology. For more information about hypnotherapy and the IBS Audio Program 100visit his web site at Michael runs IBS workshops in the UK / Ireland and from 2007 plans to do so in the USA. Contact [email protected] for details.

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