Gut-directed Hypnosis for IBS

Hello Everybody! Happy Thursday. I hope you are all staying healthy and tuning in to your physical and mental health needs.

Today’s interview is with world-renowned clinical psychologist and health researcher, Olafur Palsson, PsyD from University of North Carolina’s Center of Functional GI & Motility Disorders.

Dr. Palsson has an interest in the relationship between the mind and body in the determination of health and wellness.  Interesting fact: Dr. Palsson is originally from Iceland. Other interesting fact: he is a very interesting and kind person. He has provided me his generous support and expertise in my recent efforts in engaging in survey-based research. Dr. Palsson was a lead researcher in a recent national survey examining the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, learn more here.

Kate: What is hypnosis?

Olafur Palsson: Hypnosis is a special mental state that is natural part of human mental functioning. It happens spontaneously to most people in their daily lives, but much more to some than others. It is typically characterized by narrowing of the focus of attention, activation of the imagination, and doing things automatically and effortlessly without deliberately conscious control of actions. Hypnotherapists induce this special state deliberately for clinical purposes by creating the conditions that elicit it through verbal guidance — for example, in part by facilitating narrowed attentional focus by asking the individual to stare at one spot. The whole reason for inducing hypnosis for treatment purposes is that it heightens a person’s receptivity to verbal suggestions. What is said to somebody under hypnosis is more likely than it usually would be to produce desired changes in emotions, thoughts, behavior or physical symptoms.

What specifically is gut directed hypnosis?

Gut-directed hypnotherapy is the term we use for specialized applications of clinical hypnosis that primarily aim to improve gastrointestinal symptoms.  It distinguishes such therapy from other uses of clinical hypnosis, such as for treating psychological problems.

Is every individual with IBS a good candidate for hypnosis?

Hypnosis treatment is not necessary for all people with IBS. Many clinical patients can manage well by adjusting their diet and lifestyle or by taking the typical medications used for IBS. However, I think three kinds of IBS sufferers in particular should seriously consider hypnosis treatment: One would be individuals who are still having moderate or severe IBS symptoms after they have given the usual medical treatment approaches a fair try for at least three months. Another would be people who notice a clear relationship between their psychological functioning and their IBS symptoms. If stress and negative emotions seem to trigger or drive the symptoms, that is a good indication that a psychological intervention like hypnosis might help reduce the bowel symptoms. And finally, hypnosis is a great option for individuals who are very interested in taking charge of their own gut health by applying mind-body techniques rather than pills.

It should be added here that people need to be at least moderately hypnotizable to be likely to benefit from gut-directed hypnotherapy for IBS. However, that is not a barrier for most individuals, as only about one in five people in the general population score low on hypnotizability tests.

If someone is considering trying hypnosis for IBS, where should they start? Are there resources to find a trained provider?

There are two places online where you may be able to find qualified therapists specifically for providing gut-directed hypnotherapy. One is, my public information website, and the other is the Rome Foundation’s listing of health professionals specialized in psychogastroenterology:

Thank you, Dr. Palsson for sharing your expertise!

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