WHAT is IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME?
Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may struggle with various symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, gas, bloating, soreness, or abdominal distention. Individuals are not given an IBS diagnosis until other illnesses such as Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease have been ruled out. For most cases of irritable bowel syndrome there appears to be no clear medical or physical cause.
WHAT CAUSES IBS?
The exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome is uncertain, but research suggest that higher percentages of individuals with IBS or other functional gastrointestinal disorders had higher rates of traumatic events in their past. (Functional gastrointestinal disorders are those digestive tract disorders in which no medical cause or no clear physical cause has been determined.) These traumatic events can range from war to serious illness or accidents or to emotionally traumatic experiences in childhood or adulthood. Many studies have suggested that 45-50% of patients with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms may have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child. CLICK ON THE PINK STATEMENT BELOW FOR A DOWNLOADABLE PAMPHLET ON IRRITABLE BOWEL TREATMENT INFORMATION.
PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS FOR IBS
Research suggest that individuals with IBS may have become overly sensitive to bowel sensations. These individuals may also ruminate and think the worst about the bowel sensations, as well as have increased symptoms in difficult conflictual interpersonal interactions. Sometimes these symptoms arise with no accompanying expected feelings, but instead the symptoms become the actual expression of the underlying concern or feeling, without the feeling being actually expressed.
Three treatments have evolved to deal with these components of IBS: hypnosis, cognitive therapy, and interpersonal psychoanalysis. For a more detailed explanation of the inter-relationship between the felt physical symptoms of IBS and emotional and relational difficulties, download the IBS treatment description phamphlet indicated above.
In my practice, I work with individuals with IBS via the use of hypnosis, cognitive therapy, and interpersonal psychoanalysis. For more difficult long term issues, often the combination of these three approaches is most effective.
Cognitive therapy is effective when the individual’s actual ruminations or expectations produce physical bodily tension. Hypnosis works by desensitizing the individual to IBS symptoms and sensations. Interpersonal psychoanalysis aids the individual to change problematic relationship issues, as well as learn to express emotions again via feelings rather than bodily sensations.
IBS SYMPTOMS ARE VERY REAL, OFTEN PAINFUL PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE BEEN ACCIDENTLY LEARNED.
Early signs of gastrointestinal distress become conditional signals or triggers for more intense sensations or anxiety. Certain relational contexts can also become triggers, as can erroneous beliefs about the IBS sensations themselves.
Psychological treatment for IBS is done in conjunction with the treatment of your gastroenterologist and consists of three (3) components:
- Hypnosis, which trains the brain to dampen down and redefine bowel sensations.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which targets beliefs about IBS sensations, and also modifies your reactions to symptoms.
- Inter-personal psychoanalysis is useful if hypnosis and CBT have not reduced symptoms sufficiently. This process allows the patient to become more clearly aware of when, why and how certain interpersonal situations may increase IBS symptoms.