There’s a new mind-body connection in town
The mind-body connection is no longer a buzzword from a 60s hippy commune – it’s a mainstream term that even medical professionals are embracing. And with it, alternative treatments like hypnotherapy are gaining increasing traction for their ability to treat our bodies using our minds.
Gut-directed hypnotherapy (also known as hypnosis) is one such treatment that is showing promising results for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and other gastrointestinal tract disorders. Here, we look at what it is, how it works, and what you can expect from a gut-directed hypnotherapy session.
What is gut-directed hypnotherapy?
If you’re picturing gazing at a swinging pocket watch or a crystal ball as you recline on a paisley chaise lounge, you’re back in the 60s. Today, hypnotherapy is a technique used in a setting closer to a doctor’s office than you might expect. It is a deep form of relaxation that allows your mind to be open to suggestions or prompts that has been used for treating all kinds of health conditions and addictions – from anxiety and insomnia to smoking – with plenty of success. It’s performed by trained therapists and puts patients in a state of deep, relaxed concentration. Hypnosis is believed to target the subconscious, changing the way we think or act.
As the name suggests, gut-directed hypnotherapy focuses on treating gastrointestinal tract disorders by calming this area and moving sufferers from centering on discomfort.
How can hypnosis help?
Gut-directed hypnosis is thought to address a miscommunication between the brain and gut – the mind-body connection, if you will. While it’s not fully understood how it works, according to Monash University researchers, when you are in a state of hypnosis, your brain is more open to suggestions on how to better communicate with your gut. Hypnotherapy has been widely researched as a tool to relieve stress and anxiety, and anxiety can often be a key trigger of gastrointestinal tract disorders – particularly IBS. In this situation, hypnotherapy’s relaxing and calming effects can act as a circuit breaker to a cycle of worry and anxiety over flare-ups.
Does it work?
For IBS, yes, it appears to. Studies show that over 70% of IBS patients may significantly benefit from gut-directed hypnotherapy, and Monash University research has shown that it improves symptoms in 70-80% of sufferers over the long term. The same research showed that gut-directed hypnotherapy is equally as effective in improving gastrointestinal symptoms as a low FODMAP diet that is often recommended to sufferers.
What you can expect from a session
Close your eyes, relax, and picture a pain-free, free-flowing gut. Well, almost. During a 30–45-minute gut-directed hypnotherapy session, you’ll be put into a hypnotic trance – typically through these three stages:
- Induction – in this stage, a trained hypnotherapist will guide you through relaxation exercises to get you in the zone. It’s not dissimilar to guided meditation or relaxation exercises that you might have experienced in a yoga class and is designed to put you in a state of focused calm.
- Visualization – this helps your mind tune into your gut and projects your desired outcome. For example, you might be asked to imagine your gut as a free-flowing river.
- Suggestion – these are simple statements delivered to your unconscious which hypnotherapists believe can be absorbed. A hypnotherapist might make statements like, “You are free from symptoms of discomfort and pain.”
What if I can’t be hypnotized?
We’ve all seen it at a stage show or on TV, the ‘unhypnotizable’ few who, despite the hypnotist’s best efforts, won’t play ball. However, research has shown that 85% of people can get into at least a light trance, which experts believe is enough to gain benefits. The key is to go into it and not be afraid. You’re not going to act like a chicken every time someone says a secret code word, you’re just being put in a state of focussed attention – like when you’re absorbed in a good book.
Ready to give it a go?
While it’s not yet fully understood how this treatment can help gastrointestinal tract issues, a substantial body of research suggests that it can alleviate symptoms.
If you think gut-directed hypnotherapy could help you, it’s best to speak to a medical professional first to ensure it’s the right thing for your circumstances.
To find a qualified hypnotherapist, visit the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.