What if there was a treatment that would reduce your IBS symptoms, improve your quality of life and provide continuing benefits even after you had completed treatment? Now there is. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is helped by psychotherapy.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in December of 2015 highlights the benefits of psychological therapies on easing the stress and symptoms associated with IBS. It was found that the benefits tend to be long lasting and provided relief for at least the one-year period in which many of the patients were being tracked.1
What Type of Psychotherapy Helps IBS
Forty-one clinical trials from several countries that involved over 2,200 patients were analyzed. This meta-study found that IBS symptoms were helped by several different types of psychotherapy including:
1. Cognitive therapy
2. Behavioral therapy
5. Psychodynamic therapy
6. Relaxation therapies
The most commonly tested therapies were cognitive therapy, hypnotherapy and relaxation therapies. All were found helpful. Many of the studies utilized a combination of these therapies to improve GI symptoms and provide the patients with more individualized relief.
Over the years, I have treated many patients with anxiety, stress, PTSD and depression diagnoses that also had irritable bowel syndrome. I have seen patients from Dallas, TX, Plano, TX, Garland, TX, Richardson, TX and other local suburbs. My anecdotal observation was that their IBS symptoms eased as I was able to help them with the therapy issues that they presented. Having successfully utilized all of the treatment interventions that were analyzed in this meta-study, I was not surprised by the positive results of the research. However, it is satisfying to have this level of clinical validation of the efficacy of psychotherapy for IBS treatment.
Why is Psychotherapy So Beneficial in IBS Treatment
Although the causes of IBS are not fully known, research is suggesting that both "physiologic and psychological variables appear to play a role in the development and maintenance of IBS". Between 50% to 90% of patients who seek treatment for IBS also suffer from issues such as panic disorder, social phobia, PTSD, depression or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)2. Generalized anxiety disorder is five times more common in IBS patients. There appears to be a close relationship between easing mental and emotional distress and easing the physical symptoms of IBS.
IBS Symptoms, Prevalence and Impact on Quality of Life
IBS is a condition classified as a disorder of the "brain-gut axis". It is a classic mind-body issue. Since there is no known cure, treatment focuses on relieving the potentially disabling symptoms characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel patterns.
According to the John Hopkins School of Medicine, about 15% of the US population (35 million people) suffer from IBS symptoms. They also note that each year this results in over 3.5 million doctor visits.3
The distress that IBS patients experience can be severe and frequent. One study found that patients reported pain/discomfort 33% of the time, bloating 28% of the time and altered stool form or passage 25% of the time.4 This pattern can produce significant disruption to and restrictions on a person's life.
The main study highlighted here and a growing number of other studies underscore the great benefits available for IBS sufferers through psychological interventions. One of the lead researchers, Kelsey Laird of Vanderbilt University, notes that "gastrointestinal symptoms can increase stress and anxiety, which can increase the severity of the symptoms. This is a vicious cycle that psychological treatment can help break."
IBS Treatment: How Much Therapy Is Needed to Produce Relief
Several of the studies analyzed found that 12 or fewer therapy sessions could provide valuable relief. My experience indicates that the exact type of therapy and number of treatment sessions may vary according to the individual's particular issues, needs and circumstances. What seems to be clear though is that shorter term treatment can produce longer term benefits.
How Long Were People Helped by Psychotherapy
One of the powerful findings of the current study was that after treatment, the benefits of reductions in symptoms continued even after the therapy was complete. Many of the studies followed patients for up to a year after treatment and showed ongoing benefit.
However, in a separate study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, it was found that 85% of the patients who were helped with hypnotherapy treatment (the intervention used in that research study) still felt the benefits of treatment for up to seven years later if they regularly utilized what they learned in therapy.5
The growing body of research evidence and awareness in the health care field supports the hope that more people with IBS will be able to be helped than ever before. Having evidence-based psychotherapy tools to intervene in the lives of those who suffer with IBS and to ease their distress provides the opportunity for increased functioning and improved satisfaction with life.
How to Get Help
Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT is a psychotherapist that helps people with IBS, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, traumatic events, stress and depression. To get help from Steve,
Call 972-997-9955 to request an appointment for evaluation and treatment.
Steve Reed is available for an office appointment to help in the treatment of your IBS or your counseling and psychotherapy needs in the Dallas, Fort Worth, DFW metroplex, including Addison, Allen, Arlington, Bedford, Carrollton, Colleyville, Denton, Euless, Flower Mound, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Highland Park, Hurst, Irving, Keller, Lake Highlands, Lewisville, McKinney, Mesquite, Murphy, Plano, Richardson, Rockwall, Rowlett, and University Park. He provides therapy at his office in Richardson, TX.
Treatment is also available via phone or video counseling to people worldwide.
- Laird, K., Tanner-Smith, E., Russell, A., Hollon, S., & Walker, L. (2015). Short- and Long- Term Efficacy of Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2015.11.020.
- Lydiard, R. (2001). Irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression: What are the links? Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 62(Suppl 8), 38-45.
- Hahn, B., Watson, M., Yan, S., Gunput, D., & Heuijerjans, J. (1998). Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptom Patterns. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 43(12), 2715-2718.
- Lindfors, P., Unge, P., Nyhlin, H., Ljótsson, B., Björnsson, E., Abrahamsson, H., & Simrén, M. (2012). Long-term effects of hypnotherapy in patients with refractory irritable bowel syndrome. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 47(4), 414-421. doi:10.3109/00365521.2012.658858