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Hypnotherapy to encourage positive thinking could help people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The new approach uses a technique often known as positive visualisation and it can involve patients imagining the digestive system as a river.
A study last year at Manchester University found three-quarters of IBS patients experienced improvement in their symptoms after hypnotherapy,and the effects lasted for five years or more. But the researchers say many sufferers are being denied the treatment because of prejudice ‘Sadly many health professions are sceptical,’ says Professor Peter Whorwell, who pioneered the treatment at Manchester. He adds: ‘It works for people who are quite ill and who have not responded to other treatments.’
IBS, which is experienced by ten to 15 per cent of the population, affects the digestive system and can cause stomach cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Its cause is not known. Treatments include diet changes, laxatives and anti-depressants.
The hypnotherapy treatment involves weekly sessions for three months, during which patients are given suggestions about how they can gain control over their gut. ‘They might be imagining their gut as a river, for example,’ says Prof Whorwell, ‘and modifying its flow according to their needs – a fast-flowing stream being slowed down to a gently meandering river, or the reverse for someone suffering from constipation.’
One patient to have benefited is Joanna Cowdrey, 31, a supermarket manager from Southampton, who began having bowel problems six years ago. Joanna tried various kinds of medication, but none reduced the symptoms – until she was invited to have hypnotherapy at Manchester University.
She says: ‘There were no swinging watches like in films – you just feel half asleep then alert and invigorated afterwards. ‘I had 12 sessions but saw benefits after the third. It really has changed my life – my symptoms are far less intrusive and I feel great.’