In this interview, Registered Dietitian Andrea Hardy interviews Registered Clinical Hypnotherapist Claire Bramham on the gut brain axis, and how hypnotherapy is showing benefits to helping manage the symptoms of IBS.
An IBS diagnosis can bring with it stress and anxiety for the patient. Learning how to manage stress and anxiety in a meaningful way, through gut directed hypnotherapy, can go a long way to helping with IBS symptom management.
Table of Contents
- What is hypnotherapy?
- Why does hypnotherapy work?
- What does a hypnotherapist do?
- How do people get hypnotised?
- Can hypnotherapy cure IBS?
- Why is the gut-brain axis so important to our health?
- How does someone receive hypnotherapy?
- Finding a credible hypnotherapist
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is similar to psychotherapy, but it uses hypnosis. During hypnosis we are actually very aware. Most people think we are going to be unaware but it’s a normal and natural brain state. People spend about 2-3 hours per day in hypnosis – all on their own. We access this many times in the day. But we aren’t necessarily aware that we are in that state. It is a brain state where we are more responsive to suggestion. Most hypnotic times of day are upon awakening or before you go to sleep.
Why does hypnotherapy work?
When we talk about the mind, we say that we have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind.
An iceberg helps to demonstrate the ratio that 10% of our mind is conscious and 90% is subconscious. Most therapy, like talk therapy, is done at the conscious level. But why hypnosis is so powerful is because, in that relaxed state, it opens the doorway to the subconscious. Which is that part of the mind that controls the autonomic nervous system – the breathing, the heart rate. But also, it’s the seat of our emotions. Your subconscious actually has all the answers. This is why it is so powerful. With hypnotherapy we can find out the underlying cause of things. We do this by assessing belief systems, or things that may influence how your body responds that you may not even know is there. This is so key to getting people to feel better.
Before doing something like an interview, or public speaking, or an exam – people feel their guts are churning. So, you can see that there’s a connection between the brain and the gut.
When we’re so wrapped up in anxiety and stress, a lot of times people really don’t understand where the root of that inappropriate brain-gut reaction comes from. So, hypnotherapy helps you to explore that.
What does a hypnotherapist do?
Prior to a hypnotherapy session most people are nervous and apprehensive – because they don’t know what to expect. Hypnotherapists may start by meeting with a new patient for an hour – in a very relaxed consultation. This provides the opportunity to take a history, meet the patient, and explain how hypnotherapy works. This really helps to put patients at ease. So that they’re really informed and would know what to expect when they start working on those issues together. Depending on the hypnotherapist they may hold about 6 sessions in total with their patients, depending on the issues.
How do people get hypnotised?
Hypnotists use their voice to guide patients into simple things like relaxing head to toe. We’ve all done something like that if we’ve done a yoga class, or even our own guided meditation. The goal is to encourage that feeling of safety and comfort. Then we’re able to answer those questions within. What it feels like is your body is quite relaxed, but your mind is very aware – you’re able to communicate, imagine, and participate.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Basically, the hypnotist is the guide in the beginning and the patient is in the driver’s seat. But then, the patient learns how to do it for themselves. It’s a very empowering process for people.
It is important to find out what’s causal, what the triggers are. At that level of mind, we often need to do some unlearning. In psychology we say our thinking affects how we feel – which affects our behavior. Gut symptoms are trying to get us to look at something. It might be that people have a limiting belief or they worry about things like not being good enough. So, we’re often not just doing gut directed hypnotherapy, but finding out what the triggers are so that they can learn to let that go is so important. So, they’re relearning better ways of thinking. Also, rather than having pain as a signal they are also learning different coping strategies too. It could be as simple as recognizing when they are stressed and being able to relax. Because, nerves that fire together wire together.
Can hypnotherapy cure IBS?
People with an IBS diagnosis are usually dealing with things like bloating, constipation and pain. That can either be the anxiety running too fast or, with constipation – they can be unconsciously holding on. With gut directed hypnotherapy, we are able to find out very quickly what it’s about.
The goal is to teach patients to use their mind to control their body. It’s teaching the mind to control the gut.
It’s important to find a way to help the mind modify your digestion and make this a more positive experience overall. We can’t shy away from the range of human emotions. There are many times when our emotions come through in unhelpful ways. It is learning how to deal with those emotions, in a more capable way, that helps to reduce IBS symptoms.
Worriers tend to have a lot of “what if” thoughts – would have, should have thoughts. Worrying is using our imagination to create what we don’t want. IBS patients have a tendency to worry about their IBS symptoms – which in turn creates more worries. So, gut directed hypnotherapy helps patients to get out of those habits and think differently about things. It is important to empower patients and teach them that they have the ability within themselves to use their imagination in a more positive way. Learning these coping strategies is SO key to managing IBS symptoms.
Really truly, happiness is at the core of managing overall health and wellness. Whether it’s IBS, a chronic disease, or any other condition – it’s super important that we work on that. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we’re very focused on attainment, achievement, outcomes, perfectionism, and the importance of being busy. Yet this leads to unhappiness, and this impacts what is going on physiologically.
A lot of the mindfulness movement is teaching people that your point of power is in the present. Rather than worrying about the past. In psychology, they say depression is about the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. Our goal is really teaching people how they can be calm and present in the moment and show them how to do that for themselves.
Why is the gut-brain axis so important to our health?
If you think about the mind and the body, or those “gut feelings” with the brain-gut axis – it’s like a busy two-way highway. The spinal cord has as many neurons as the gut. So, there’s constant communication between both. If we have a tendency to worry or overthink or might be anxious or stressed this is when our gut will feel it more.
There’s an intricate link between the nervous system and the digestive system. There is a constant exchange of chemical and electrical messengers the brain is telling the gut to digest and when to rest and things like that. When we’re in hypnosis we go into that parasympathetic nervous system – which is often called rest and digest. So, the brain gut axis is going on all the time. What we love to do with the hypnosis is not just find out what’s causal but to empower patients to feel more in control by giving them something that they can do to relieve that pain and that distress and to recognize that their gut symptoms are feedback. A lot of our stress and emotions are churning in the stomach – like when we say that we have that ‘gut feeling’. With hypnosis we begin to learn our own ability to calm it down.
How does someone receive hypnotherapy?
Most the time it is done face-to-face one-on-one. But now, thanks to technology, it is possible to also conduct hypnotherapy sessions virtually with people all around the world. In order for hypnotherapy to work a patient has to be open to it and want it to happen and allow it to happen. It involves listening and allowing the hypnotherapist’s voice to guide them into a safe, naturally relaxed state. The benefit of virtual sessions is that patients can do it in the safety and comfort of their own home. You don’t have to be in person.
Finding a Credible Hypnotherapist
Hypnotherapy is not a regulated industry. Anyone can call themselves a hypnotherapist – even if they’ve just been on a weekend course. So, you want to do you due diligence. Look for someone who is a licensed health professional. For example, having a background in psychology, or a masters of social work is a good place to start. The National Guild of Hypnotists accepts people who have a hundred hours of training – which is still somewhat low. So, when you find someone who’s trained for 2-3 hundred hours and was referred to you by word-of-mouth – that is always a good way to go. Don’t be afraid to interview your hypnotherapist. How much experience have they had? Are they comfortable treating you? What their process would be? What the patient can expect? Asking these kinds of questions can help you to find a credible hypnotherapist that is a good fit for you.
Connect with Claire on her website at mindandbodytherapy.ca or on Instagram or on her Facebook here as well!
Working with a team of trained professionals can help to best manage your functional gut disorder. While nutrition is an important piece of the puzzle, I always say it’s only ONE pillar of gut health. To learn more or work with one of our dietitians and start feeling better today, visit our nutrition counselling services page – we would love to help you feel better!
FAQs about hypnosis for IBS
IBS patients have a tendency to worry about their IBS symptoms – which in turn creates more worries. So, gut directed hypnotherapy helps patients to get out of those habits and think differently about things. In turn, these coping strategies are key to managing IBS symptoms.
There is no cure for IBS. However, gut directed hypnotherapy can be a great tool to help manage IBS symptoms. Gut directed hypnotherapy helps to empower patients by teaching them that they have the ability within themselves to navigate their feelings in a positive way.