Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can present with stomachaches, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, irregular bowl movements or a combination of any of these symptoms. The word “syndrome” in its name means that physicians are unsure of its cause. That being said, IBS usually is associated with psychosocial stress, and often improves greatly when patients learn how to better manage their stress reactions. For this reason, patients with IBS can benefit greatly from use of hypnosis.
Hypnotic Imagery to Help with IBS
As for many patients, hypnosis therapy for IBS begins by learning how to become calmer using imagery that triggers a relaxation response, such as imagining being in a favorite, comfortable place.
Additional imagery that is helpful for IBS can involve imagining a liquid soothing medicine coating the inside of the intestines or sending a large number of home repairers into the gut in order to rebuild its structure in a healthier way.
One of my favorite metaphors that helps improve abdominal pain involves imagining building a sandcastle on a beach near the ocean. As the sandcastle is built, the patient is directed to use his or her worries as part of its scaffolding. Once the castle is built, the patient is directed to step away, and allow the ocean to wash away the sandcastle along with the worries that it contained.
A healing metaphor involves imagining the colors of the rainbow. Each color can be ascribed a different attribute, such as physical strength for red, mental strength for orange, healing for yellow, emotional strength for green, peace for blue, spiritual strength for indigo, and perhaps even a connection with the universe or God for violet. The patient then decides which color would best help him or her, and then imagine the color entering through the head and filling the body with the desired attribute.
I encourage my patients with IBS to use hypnotic imagery on a daily basis for at least 3 weeks. During that time the majority of them achieve much improvement, including some patients who report that they no longer have symptoms!
The Role of the Subconscious in Treatment of IBS
The subconscious can often disclose issues that are bothering the patients of which they might be unaware and yet underlie their on-going physical symptoms. The subconscious also can guide discussions with patients regarding these issues.
For example, in some patients their symptoms have arisen because of issues with academic or athletic stress, school bullies, or family dysfunction. In each case, therapy involves helping the patients learn to cope better with their stressor.
Take Home Message
IBS can improve greatly with use of hypnotic imagery, as well as counseling regarding stressors that might be underlying perpetuation of the symptoms.
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