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Clinical Hypnotherapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Michael Mahoney(more info)

listed in hypnosis, originally published in issue 76 - May 2002


As one of the most scientifically researched complementary medicines to date, hypnotherapy is gaining popularity from the public and the medical profession as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, as varied as we are individuals; none more so than as a treatment for the common digestive disorder known as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.

Hypnotic projection

For over nine years, I, as a clinical hypnotherapist, have been developing new specific processes to help manage this difficult condition. Three years ago, with the introduction of my website, I reported the results of my experience and research, which resulted in the development of the IBS Audio Program 100. Since then I have quietly been helping IBS sufferers worldwide through my IBS Audio Program 100, which has been described by sufferers as "the best kept secret in gastroenterology".

Unfortunately, many people view hypnosis as mysterious or similar to stage hypnosis, which it is not. Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness where, contrary to popular belief, consciousness is not lost, nor is the patient 'taken over' in any way.

Simply, hypnotherapy uses hypnosis as a therapy for whatever is being presented to the therapist. Despite what we see on stage, which is of course 'show business', the reality is that hypnosis is an excellent tool in helping treat or manage many conditions of mind and body.

As long ago as 1955, the British Medical Association supported teaching the therapeutic use of hypnosis in medicine, which was followed three years later by the American Medical Association. Currently hypnosis is used in medicine, dentistry and psychology. Also hypnotherapy can be used either independently or with other therapies and medications.

Over the last 15 years, medical science has been looking into the effects of hypnotherapy on the digestive system. The research has shown impressive improvements through hypnotherapy, particularly with IBS and issues like controlling nausea and pain. IBS is a functional disorder, that is, the patient has been diagnosed with IBS through the lack of any organic condition. Tests will have proven negative for other diseases whose symptoms are similar to IBS but have an organic basis.

What makes the IBS audio Program 100 unique is the way it has been developed and the processes and methods it uses. Through years of study and research, I have developed Ongoing Progressive Session Induction Methods (OPSIM) of hypnotherapy, designed specifically for all variations of IBS.


IBS is defined as a functional bowel disorder in which abdominal pain is associated with defecation or a change in bowel habit, and with features of disordered defecation and with distension.[1]

However, there is no such thing as a typical IBS patient. IBS presents with multiple symptomology associated with this complex disorder and is not always mentioned in standard textbooks.

One most commonly presented symptom is diarrhoea, which may be at times very watery and explosive with little if any warning. Others may present with severe constipation, or others with alternating bowel movement. Also not uncommon are stomach pain; bloating; nausea; flatulence; belching; reflux; pain during intercourse and/or discomfort after intercourse, sometimes for several hours or even days; pain, mucus or wet feeling in the back passage; headaches; incontinence of the bladder or bowel; a full bladder feeling; increased urination; bowel-not-empty feeling; lack of sex drive; and disturbed sleep. This is not a full and complete list however.


IBS is a heterogeneous condition with varying severity and symptomology, with at least 25% (one in four) of the general population affected at some time in their lives.[2-4] Although the condition is classed as 'non-serious', it has serious cost implications to the NHS, through frequent presentations to general practitioners, hospital physicians and other specialist services.[5]

Being diagnosed is often through exclusion of diagnosable physical abnormalities and organic disease.[6] IBS is an extremely common digestive disorder accounting for up to 50% of all cases seen by the gastroenterologists.[7] Most people with IBS do not consult a doctor[8],[9] although of course they should, since other more serious conditions present symptoms similar to IBS.

To understand IBS is more than just understanding the physical symptoms presented. We also need to understand the psychological effects on thoughts and emotions, especially internalizing, which is how we represent our thoughts and feelings within ourselves.

The examples below will enable the reader to understand the rest of the IBS condition; once understood, it can then be managed and its impact on mind, body and behaviour can be reduced.

No Mystery about how Hypnotherapy Works

Hypnotherapy is an altered state of consciousness where a person's focus of attention is narrowed and intensified. The patient is guided by the therapist's voice and is encouraged to develop relaxation, suggestibility and imagery to bring the internal focus of attention towards the problem being presented. Through relaxation, suggestion and imagery the patient is guided to a point of self-realization, where they can control, reduce or eliminate conditions that have given them discomfort, pain and distress in either mind or body. The listener is always aware of their surroundings, all sensations, and able to move and adjust their position whenever they wish.

Psychological Effects

The psychological effects of IBS, such as worry, stress, guilt, anxiety, weepiness, lowering of confidence and self-esteem are rarely discussed or considered. Once these feelings become a part of the thought process, then even more issues begin to compound the problem, such as difficulty in memory and recall, disrupted sleep patterns, and other psychological elements that add to an already difficult problem for the sufferer to live with and the doctor to manage.

The IBS symptoms, like other functionings of the body, are closely interlinked with the emotional state of the sufferer. In fact researchers have identified that the intestines have a very complicated nerve supply. This has been termed by researchers as the enteric nervous system. The intestines send messages to the brain pathways called 'afferent nerves' and the intestines receive information back through another pathway of nerves called 'efferent nerves'. All this brought researchers to consider a concept called the 'brain-gut axis', which is basically the relationship and interconnection between the central nervous system and brain function and the functioning of the gut or intestines.

The IBS sufferer needs to understand the mind-body connection. The easiest example is that of 'butterflies in the stomach' - that nervous feeling produced when we are feeling unsure or excited. This feeling comes through messages sent from the brain being interpreted by the body as a physical response. If we can produce negative feelings, then we can learn new positive ones also. It's as simple as that! We were not born stressed or anxious; these are learned behaviours. Of course we don't create them intentionally, however we do create them.

Also we have to understand the power of memories on behaviour. That is the way we internalize our thoughts and memories. That is to say, the 'internal language' we use to develop thoughts and store memories. For example, some IBS patients may suffer bowel incontinence: 'an accident'. The individual experiences embarrassment, anxiety, fear and other emotions. That sufferer may then decide not to go to that place again for fear of it happening again. These memories hold people back, by getting them so emotionally distressed that their IBS symptoms become even more of a problem.

And finally, but just as importantly, consider the human development factor. Let us recognize that as human beings we are constantly changing, through new thoughts, feelings, experiences, sensations, education, trial and error and more. Therefore we can say that, as each moment passes, we as individual human beings change. Each moment we are changing; we are never the same person from one moment to the next.

We hear of life-changing incidents; a person's entire character will change, perhaps after a near-death experience, or bereavement or being involved in violence, etc. While these are for most rare, we as individuals continue to change moment by moment. Things we can do today are only a result of yesterday's learning and mistakes, trial and error. We now walk, but once in our lives we could not stand; we learned to crawl, stand, toddle, walk, run, etc., each one building on the learnings of yesterday. So we are never the same person, because our experiences and our own history change us, moment by moment. Therefore because we are constantly changing, the fears, beliefs, anxieties and all the rest that go with IBS do not have to be the same all the time. We are changing, and as we change and improve so do the IBS symptoms.

The success of the IBS Audio Program is known around the globe, yet in the UK where it was developed and researched it is less well known, but this is changing.

Success Stories of the Program

1. Mr SC in Portland, Oregon, says his symptoms are 85% better after suffering with IBS for more than 20 years. He finished the IBS Program in 1999 and says the symptoms are still changing for the better even after all this time.

2. Ms SC, UK. "About a year ago I was suffering very badly with IBS-C and was in constant pain. (I'd suffered on and off for many years but never with continuous pain lasting many weeks.) I phoned up for the IBS tapes and spoke to Mike personally. Although I was very sceptical that they would work, I was getting so desperate that I would have tried anything! It must have taken about three weeks before I started to feel any real benefit from the tapes, although I was enjoying doing them anyway as it gave me some time through the day to switch off and relax. I finished the tapes in late September and, by then, all my IBS symptoms had gone. Before I started the tapes, my IBS used to flare up when I would go round to friends' for a meal. I had even been known to resort to lying down flat in their bathroom in an effort to get some relief from the pain. Now I can enjoy my evenings out without worrying any more. In the six months since I have finished the tapes, I have had only occasional, mild cramping, but it has always gone after a day or so. I've even had a major holiday to Florida without any symptoms. When I'm feeling stressed at work or home, I make time to listen to my favourite session(s) again, and that always helps. What I'm trying to say is please stick with the tapes if you are trying them. It might not be instant but it certainly does work. I'd also like to say thanks to Mike - you've turned my life around."

These results and many like them are due to the OPSIM processes, which use our natural ability of learning coupled with our ability continually to absorb information from experiences, thoughts and feelings. While not a panacea, the process is natural and the majority of users are extremely pleased with their results.

So impressive is the feedback from the IBS Audio Program that West Hills GI Research Hospital in Portland, Oregon, will soon commence its own patient trials to determine why it is so successful. Currently the Program is offered to their eligible IBS patients.

The Program Structure

The IBS Audio Program 100 is a course of hypnotherapy sessions that was developed specifically for all IBS variations, and consists of a clear introduction explaining IBS and hypnotherapy, as well as five different hypnotherapy sessions, each one building on the preceding one using OPSIM methods.

Each step of the way is shown in the booklet, which includes a symptom checklist/progress log, listening schedule and other information relevant to the IBS sufferer.

The course consists of three CDs or three audio cassettes. The Program is structured and is completed over 100 days, with rest days allocated in between. After Program completion, users are encouraged to listen to the final session as desired, to ensure the learned processes are imbedded into the subconscious.

In all, there are 20 'rest days' where no listening of the Program is required. The only requirement is simply to listen!

Find a time that is your own when you will not be disturbed, and follow the Program schedule. All processes used in each session are tested in the clinical environment and are guided by one of the leaders in clinical hypnotherapy research and treatment for IBS. The sessions cost less than one therapy office session and they are also flexible, with no appointments, traffic jams or waiting. All in the comfort of you own home.


1. Thompson et al. 1992
2. Jones 1992
3. Harvey 1983
4. Cook 1987
5. Talley 1995
6. Latimer 1983
7. Harvey 1983
8. Farthing 1995
9. Drossman 1982

Further Information

More information about the IBS Audio Program 100 can be obtained from the Program website at; or for a free information sheet Tel: 01925-629899;
Website for IBS sufferers:
Website for self-help audio titles:


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About Michael Mahoney

Michael Mahoney is a medical-centre-based clinical hypnotherapist, a member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology, and also a member of the Functional Brain-Gut Research Society. He has medical research project and patient trials experience, and has been in practice for over 15 years.

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