A Proven Clinical Hypnosis Treatment for IBS

A Proven Clinical Hypnosis Treatment for IBS
Developed by Olafur S. Palsson, Psy.D.*

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract often listed among the top ten presenting problems in primary care settings. Estimates are that 10-15% of adults in the United States suffer from IBS. A similar prevalence is seen in many other countries. Those suffering from IBS usually experience recurrent abdominal pain and changes in their bowel functioning such as diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both. The symptoms typically last for years once they come on, but are often intermittent. Women represent over 70% of IBS sufferers.

Why Clinical Hypnosis to Treat IBS?

Clinical, or what is sometimes called medical, hypnosis, is not the only treatment for irritable bowel syndrome and may not be for all patients (click here for discussion of treatment options for IBS). Many sufferers of chronic and severe symptoms, however, are finding a hypnosis protocol for treating IBS developed by Dr. Olafur Palsson, a clinical psychologist with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine to be particularly appealing  due to has some significant advantages:- It is one of the most successful treatment approaches for chronic IBS. The response rate to this treatment is 80% and better in most published studies to date.- The treatment often helps individuals who have failed to get improvements with other methods (see for example: Whorwell et al., 1984, 1987; Palsson et al., 1997, 2000).- It is a uniquely comfortable form of treatment; relaxing, easy and generally enjoyable.

– It utilizes the healing power of the person’s own mind, and is generally completely without negative side effects.

– The treatment sometimes results in improvement in other symptoms or problems such as migraine, anxiety or tension headaches, along with the improvement in IBS symptoms.

– The beneficial effects of the treatment last long after the end of the course of treatment. According to research, individuals who improve from hypnosis treatment for IBS can generally look forward to years of reduced bowel symptoms.

HOW DOES It WORK? Is It for you?

Dr. Palsson’s protocol involves 15 private sessions with your therapist guide you through seven different healing narratives. At the end of each session you take home a CD or flash drive so you can listen to the induction each day at home between sessions.

You sit in a comfortable chair or sofa in a softly lit office and listen to your therapist with your eyes closed. As you listen you find your body relaxing more and more. Guided by the calm and confident voice, you allow your mind to let go and turn inward. You drowsily notice a mildly curious floating sensation in your body, as if you are not really sitting in the chair anymore, but rather floating – in the air, or in water. The voice talking to you gradually becomes more distant, and you even find yourself forgetting that it is there… but somehow the soothing voice continues to affect you, gently and almost automatically. As you relax even further, your awareness of where you are, why you are there, and who is speaking to you, recedes into the back of your mind. You just content yourself with effortlessly allowing the voice to act on you, and with enjoying this state of profound relaxation and deep calm… This is a typical experience.

As Dr. Palsson explains, hypnosis is one of the most intriguing phenomena in our mental functioning. It is full of seeming paradoxes: You are definitely not sleep, and yet you are not really fully in a waking state either. It depends on attention and concentration and still is most often characterized by a process of relaxing and letting go. It is most easily achieved with a skilled trained professional using specific healing verbal cues techniques, and yet the results is exclusively the creation of your own mental abilities. This method has been extensively investigated in a scientific manner over a period of sixty years and there is agreement among researchers and practitioners as to what typically occurs when a person experiences a hypnotic state and how being in that state can be used to help people with a variety of physical and psychological problems.


More than anything, else clinical hypnosis involves changes in a person’s attention and concentration. People typically experience both mental tranquility and physical relaxation under hypnosis. Relaxation is not a necessary condition for hypnosis, however; one can be both mentally and physically tense, and still be in a state of deep hypnosis. This and other changes that accompany the hypnotic state are what can make hypnosis a remarkable tool for mental and physical healing and make the various specialized hypnotic techniques possible. For example, hypnotic analgesia, the blocking of pain with the aid of hypnosis, depends on the mind´s ability to alter body perception in response to suggestion under hypnosis. Finally, posthypnotic suggestions are given while one in this profound state that affect you them in positive ways after each session.


Clients I have guided through this program have had remarkably positive results so if you are interested in how this treatment for IBS could help you, please contact me. I have had in-depth training in clinical hypnosis, including having trained personally with psychiatrist Dr. Milton Erickson, one of the world’s most pre-eminent medical hypnotists.

I will be glad to talk with you and answer any questions you have. You’ll find answers below to some of the most common questions people ask along with some background on the history of clinical hypnosis. If you live out of the area I can assist you in locating a therapist near you. There is also a list of such professionals as of 2013 and other helpful information on Dr. Palsson’s website.


The use of hypnotic techniques by the helping professions has increased steadily in recent years, because hypnosis is gaining widespread acceptance as a safe, reliable, effective and comfortable alternative or adjunct to other, more traditional methods. Hypnosis is also proving invaluable as an aid in speeding recovery from physical and mental problems.

It is, however, by no means a new healing tool. The first uses of hypnosis by health professionals occurred more than two hundred years ago. In its early days, clinical hypnosis was used to treat hysterical conditions, and was also very useful for the induction of anesthesia in surgery in the days before anesthetic drugs. For example, James Esdaile, a Scottish physician working in India in the early part of 19th century performed over three hundred and forty major operations, including amputations and removal of large tumors, with hypnosis as the only anesthetic.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud used hypnosis extensively in the first years of his psychicatric practice, but abandoned it in favor of psychoanalysis, a slower but more meticulous method of mental healing. In the first half of the 20th century, hypnosis was often viewed as an exotic or fringe method in medicine and psychology, but slowly gained respect as a potent clinical tool. It finally earned formal recognition as a valuable tool in health care in 1958, when the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association recommended that instruction in hypnosis be included in medical school curricula. Hypnosis was similarly embraced several years later by the American Psychological Association. Thousands of psychologists, dentists, and physicians in various specialties now have thorough training in hypnotic methods within their specialty areas. Professional organizations in clinical hypnosis provide extensive training and continuing education in hypnosis, and provide their members with specific ethical guidelines for the professional use of hypnosis.

There are many good reasons to seek the services of medical professionals or psychotherapists skilled in the use of hypnosis. In psychotherapy, hypnotic techniques are effective in speeding the process of therapy. Hypnosis is used effectively to facilitate patients’ understanding of themselves or their problems, extinguish unfortunate habits, uncover repressed or forgotten memories, reduce anxiety and fears, and develop a new and more adaptive outlook. In medicine and health psychology, hypnosis is used to effectively treat irritable bowel syndrome, reduce pain and discomfort associated with medical procedures such as childbirth, treatment of burns, and surgery where anesthesia cannot be used effectively. It is also used to treat chronic pain and psychosomatic problems and counter unhealthy habits that contribute to illness. In dentistry, hypnotic analgesia is an effective needleless alternative to topical anaesthetic drugs, reduces bleeding and discomfort in oral surgery, and is used to treat teeth grinding and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.

Many people feel somewhat apprehensive and have numerous questions when they consider the possibility of seeking clinical hypnosis for their problems. The following are answers to some of the most common questions and concerns people voice about hypnosis:

How does it feel to be hypnotized? There is really no such thing as a specific hypnotized feeling. As described earlier, a number of different experiences are commonly associated with the hypnotic state. The most unique characteristic, the one that people tend to remember best and find most surprising, is perhaps the subjective sense of positive changes seemingly happening without effort.

Will I lose consciousness? As mentioned above, hypnosis is not sleep. Ordinarily, you will be conscious of everything that goes on when you are in the hypnotic state. Sometimes, though, you may relax so much under hypnosis that you may drift off and lose track of what is happening, – or even fall asleep!

Will I reveal deep secrets about myself? In some psychotherapeutic applications of hypnosis, it is important to uncover mental material that is related to the problem being treated, – material which you have been ignoring or keeping secret from others and even from yourself. However, no such uncovering is needed in many applications of clinical hypnosis. In medical and dental hypnosis and in the treatment of IBS with hypnosis no such uncovering of personal material is necessary

Will I do something embarrassing or silly? A clinical hypnotist will not make you cluck like a chicken or do other things for amusement at your expense. You may, however, sometimes become emotional or feel less tense, more relaxed.

What if I do not want to lose control of myself? Hypnosis does involve a certain amount of letting go of yourself and opening up to a new experience. However, you are never really losing control of yourself when you respond to what the hypnotist’s narrative and suggestions. You are making the decision to go along with his or her guidance at every step. You can benefit from hypnosis as long as you are willing to go along with the instructions of hypnotist. It may be helpful to think of the hypnotist as your personal coach or guide – a person helping you to master new ways to use your own mind. You can stop the process, however, at any time wish though since there is no harm involved this would be rare.

What if I do not wake up again? Not to worry. Only in movies and bad novels do people get stuck in the hypnotic state. In the real world, it happens only very rarely that people cannot be immediately brought back into the ordinary waking state at the end of a hypnosis session. When that happens, it may simply take them a little longer to come to wake from such a relaxed state, or someone mat slip into ordinary sleep and take a nap, and then wake up. In either case, there is no reason for concern.

Can I be made to do things I do not want to do? Contrary to a popular belief, people under hypnosis are not captive and spellbound. They can resist direct instructions that are at odds with their wishes or moral standards. For this reason, it is not as easy as one might think to make people do things against will with hypnosis. Unfortunately, however, it has been adequately demonstrated, both in experiments and in established rare cases of misconduct, that hypnosis can be deliberately misused by a skilled hypnotist through the use of sophisticated deception. This is the most important reason for seeking a reputable professional who you feel comfortable with and already have a positive rapport of trust to help you hypnotist. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with the person you have selected, talk about it. And if you feel you cannot do so, remember that you are the customer and you are always free to leave without making any apologies.

What if I cannot be hypnotized? The odds are against that. While the degree to which people are receptive to hypnosis varies from individual to individual, the great majority of people, perhaps three out of every four individuals, can be hypnotized to a sufficient degree to enjoy benefits from the IBS program.

Aren’t gullible or simple-minded people most easily hypnotizable? Not at all. In fact, researchers have found that more intelligent people are slightly more hypnotizable. It seems that openness to new experiences, rather than gullability, is related to hypnotic ability.

Are women more hypnotizable than men? Research has conclusively shown that, on the average, there is no difference between men and women in their susceptibility to hypnosis.

Can hypnosis be dangerous to my mental health? The state of hypnosis is generally very safe and free from complications – probably no more disturbing to your mind than ordinary sleep. However someone who is struggling with severe mental problems that cause them to lose their grip on reality need to carefully choose a well-trained and competent clinical hypnotist who knows you well and would be able to help you decide if or when this treatment is best for you. For most people, however, the experience of hypnosis is pleasantly relaxing and refreshing. The only aftereffects you are likely to experience are possible drowsiness for the first few minutes afterwards, and possibly a stiff neck from your posture while relaxing or (rarely) a minor headache. All such effects are transient and harmless.

Can people hypnotize themselves? Yes, they can. Entering a hypnotic state is simply a mental skill, and hypnotherapists commonly believe that regular hypnosis is nothing more than assisted self-hypnosis. It is just more easily learned under the guidance of a skilled hypnotist. However, once you have mastered it, you can do it on your own. This is the goal in many applications of clinical hypnosis, such as for pain management, where the benefits of hypnosis need to be available at any time.

*To assure accuracy this material has been excerpted with only minor modifications from Dr, Palsson’s website where you can find additional information.