Mind Your Gut

Deirdre Rolfe, Clinical hypnotherapist and counsellor


Imagine going to an important meeting and just before the appointed time, you double over with abdominal pain with an unrelenting urge for a bowel movement. Has this ever happened to you? According to the latest diagnostic procedure, the Rome II criteria, if you’ve had this feeling a dozen or so more times in the past twelve months, you may be suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colon, colitis, or nervous stomach. Yet IBS is still a relatively unknown and least understood medical condition.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not a disease. It is defined as a functional disorder of the bowels or intestines; a complex set of gastrointestinal symptoms that affects 10 to 15% of the population and is the second cause of workplace absenteeism next to the common cold. It’s also the leading cause of referrals to gastroenterology clinics and accounts for approximately half of all visits to gastroenterologists yearly.

IBS has been called the diagnosis of exclusion. This means that when there’s no definite underlying cause for the symptoms, IBS is often concluded. Symptoms of this illness vary from person to person. However some of the most common complaints include:

• Abdominal pain (cramping)

• Diarrhoea, constipation or a combination of both

• Abdominal distention or bloating

• Passing of mucus from the back passage

• A feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowel

• Either hard or very runny stools

The causes of IBS are unknown and this is very frustrating.Without knowing the cause, it is difficult to determine the cure. As any IBS suffer will tell you, it does have a severe impact on their quality of life.

Just a decade ago, IBS would have been diagnosed as a psychological illness, or the result of an improper diet.

Today we know that IBS is not a psychological illness, foods such as fermentable sugars or FODMAPs (nutritionists at Healthy Energy are very experienced in) and evidence shows that stress and anxiety aggravates the condition as well as a change in diet or even a change in the daily routine.

Up until now, the more “traditional” treatment has been fiber therapy, antispasmodic medications and antidepressants. Fiber is added to the diet through the use of bulking type laxatives and a high fiber diet. Antispasmodic medications may reduce the spasms in the gut, while antidepressants may reduce the sensitivity of the gut to pain and other sensations as opposed to acting as emotional antidepressants. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, these drug therapies have a 25% success rate.

However, there is a non-intrusive, effective and natural way to treat IBS .Over the past few years, research from the Center for Functional G.I. and Mobility Disorders, which is affiliated with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, has strong and overwhelming evidence supporting the fact that anywhere from 80 to 90% of IBS symptoms can be reduced or eliminated with hypnosis. Today, research from this center continues now with the assistance from the NIH (National Institute of Health). Based upon her own findings, Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, chair of the National Women’s Health Network in Washington D.C., says that hypnosis should be the treatment of choice for severe cases of IBS. However not all hypnotherapy programs are created equal and it is important to seek out qualified hypnotherapists that have a thorough knowledge of IBS and do “gut directed hypnosis” which means using specific scripts directed for the digestive system.

One of my clients, Teresa (not her real name) is a thirty-seven stay at home mother and a long time IBS suffer. When Teresa first came to me, she reported having lost bowel control in her car while driving her kids to school. She became so traumatised over the incident that even a short drive in her car now became impossible for her without medication for her anxiety. Over the years, Teresa had tried everything including a change in her diet (without seeking the support of a nutritionist), over-the counter medications and even sought out the services of a psychologist. Nothing had worked and she was so desperate for relief, that she was willing to try anything, including hypnosis. Like most IBS suffers, she complained of watery stools, abdominal pain and bloating. During our first session I had Teresa rate her symptoms from one to ten with ten being the absolute worst and one indicating the absence of symptoms. During this initial session she rated her symptoms eight or higher. After two sessions, Teresa began to see improvement and after the fifth session rated her symptoms at one or two. Teresa continues to improve. Today she drives her kids to school and long trips without medicating herself. Teresa sought help from our nutritionists and dieticians who are very experienced treating in IBS, with the combination or mind and body treatment. Teresa now lives a “normal” life, free of IBS symptoms that once had tied her down.

The hypnotherapy program that I use consists of five sessions, one session each week. In the first session I teach each client self-hypnosis, which comes at a surprise to most people who think that it’s the hypnotist that puts people into the trance state. But it is the client themselves that induce this altered state of consciousness. The role of the hypnotist is one as a facilitator, only setting up the environment for the client, in other words, a guide only. It is the client that allows him/herself to enter this state of relaxation. At the end of session one, a “trigger” word is given to the client’s subconscious mind which will allow them to re-enter this relaxed state immediately whenever they encounter a stressful or anxious moment.

In each session, specific scripts that are “gut directed” are used. For example in session one, a warm ball of purifying light is imagined which enters the body and provides a cleansing and healing process. In another session and depending if the client suffers from diarrhoea or constipation, a metronome representing their digestive system is imagined. While in hypnosis the client can “control” the beat of the metronome either speeding up for constipation or slowing down for diarrhoea. While not knowing it, the client is actually retraining their digestive process in each of these sessions.


Hypnotherapy has proven successful at reducing or even eliminating Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms for most clients.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy has a very positive impact on health-related quality of life with improvements in psychological well-being and physical symptoms and has a high relevance to clinical practice.

Seventy-five patients (55 females/20 males, median age 37.1 years, age range 18-64) comprised the study group. Physical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome were recorded using seven-day diary cards. On presentation the predominant symptoms were abdominal pain (61%), altered bowel habit (32.5%), and abdominal distension/bloating (6.5%) in the patient group. An irritable bowel syndrome quality of life questionnaire was used to define health-related quality of life. Physical symptoms statistically improved after hypnotherapy. There were also significant statistical improvements in six of the eight health-related quality of life domains measured (emotional, mental health, sleep, physical function, energy and social role). These improvements were most marked in female patients who reported abdominal pain as their predominant physical symptom. Anxiety and depression improved following treatment.

( J. Clinical Nurs. 2006 Jun;15(6):678-84. School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh, Old Medical School, Edinburgh, UK.)


Young girl with with stomach pain isolated on a white background


• Imagine being free from the pain

• Imagine living without diarrhoea

• Imagine having your life back

• Imagine trusting your own body again

• Imagine taking back control of your health, well being & happiness

Hypnosis treatment, along with cognitive-behavioural, is the psychological therapy best researched as an IBS intervention. Eleven studies, including 5 controlled studies, have assessed the therapeutic effects of hypnosis for IBS relief. This body of research consistently shows hypnosis has a substantial therapeutic impact on IBS, even for IBS patients unresponsive to standard medical interventions and severe irritable bowel symptoms. Also psychological symptoms and general life functioning improve during and after treatment. Therapeutic gains are well maintained for most patients for years after the end of IBS hypnosis treatment.

Source: International Journal of Clinical Experiential Hypnosis. 2006 Jan; 54 (1):7-20. Whitehead WE. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.

“All the resources we need are in our mind.” – U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy for IBS; both are techniques I successfully use to produce these lasting effects. The results have been more than very successful. In fact, hypnotherapy and CBT for IBS alone regularly generate longterm positive results in more than 80% of those IBS sufferers who are treated with it. This IBS treatment is safe and works for all ages. Many of my previous IBS clients have also suffered from associated emotions such as anxiety, tension, and depression which have also been treated effectively.

There’s no doubt in my mind that we all have the ability to retrain our thoughts and actions through hypnosis. By harnessing our subconscious mind, we all have the power to create powerful change. All change begins in the mind.

Treatment lies within all of us.

You can find more articles like this in our Autumn 2016 issue e-magazine!
Click on the below image to download