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IBS Expert Interview: Michael Mahoney, one the United Kingdom's leading clinical hypnotherapists. Michael has specialized in treating IBS patients for over twenty years, and is the developer of the clinically researched and acclaimed IBS Audio Program 100 for at-home hypnotherapy. Below are Michael's replies to some of the most frequently asked questions about hypnotherapy for IBS.1. How does hypnotherapy fit into the current research showing that IBS is a brain/gut dysfunction?IBS has been designated primarily as a functional disorder, which simply means that there are no physiological factors that can be pinpointed as the "cause" of the disorder. However, it has been found that IBS patients present with different brain configurations shown via PET and MRI scans than those individuals who do not have IBS. So to say that there is "nothing" physically detected may be somewhat debatable.The brain-gut connection in IBS has shown that there is indeed something faulty with the way the gut - the enteric nervous system within the gut - and the brain "speak" to each other.The American Gastroenterological Association and the Foundation for Digestive Health and Nutrition point out that with IBS, "It is no longer reasonable to discriminate between physiological and psychological factors; both are operative in IBS. It is likely that dysregulation of the "brain-gut" neuroenteric systems, rather than the presence of structural disease, promotes the development and persistence of IBS." This dysregulation of the "brain-gut" neuroenteric systems is commonly known as the brain-gut connection, or more simply the mind-body connection.Let me give you a simple example of this. Imagine you are asked to stand up and do a quick presentation to a group of 50 people and this is not a usual part of your everyday life. You may feel your stomach churn (often described as butterflies in the stomach) and that is a direct result of a thought. It doesn't matter if the presentation is a week or a month away, the thoughts will create a physical response, too. They may even get more intense as the day of the presentation gets closer.Each thought creates a physical response. So, between the thought and the physical response something has to happen.For the IBS patient, this strong brain-gut component becomes faulty. Nerves in the gut can produce hypersensitivity, and dysregulation of motility - resulting in diarrhea, constipation or alternation, pain in the gut, and other symptoms of IBS. Just the thought of having to go out of the home, or not being near a bathroom, can start the IBS symptoms going. For some people, the symptoms come out of the blue without any active thought at all, clearly indicating a dysregulation of the brain-gut communication.These mind/body responses happen inside you, in your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and your physical being. Imagine these responses like a flow of dominos: you have the thought, the dominos begin to fall, and the physical/emotional response is complete when the last domino falls. If you stop the flow of the dominos (thoughts and emotions) by taking one out, the ones in front keep standing. Even better, add a few dominos in (with new positive thoughts, suggestions and ideas) and the flow of the dominos is changed each time. So too is the physical or emotional response changed and improved. A great many people with IBS routinely and unconsciously have learned a method of managed thinking that results in negative thoughts much more readily and easily than positive thinking. The protocol of the hypnotherapy in the IBS Audio Program 100 works in a way to reverse these 'automatic' learned responses which result in IBS symptoms.Each session is designed for a specific aspect of the IBS condition. By providing imagery and different thought patterns, the brain communicates by creating new neural pathways to respond to the brain in the gut. The gut is regulated by new, learned subconscious thoughts in the brain. This is what hypnotherapy can do. New thinking patterns and learned responses created by the subconscious mind gradually become a part of the learned experience. An IBS patient's current IBS symptoms are regulated via improper learned responses, and the wonderful thing is, if you have learned one thing, you can learn to do something else. You simply need to replace it with something better.The simple examples above give an insight into what happens on a subconscious level, though the process itself of course is much more complicated. Hypnotherapy sessions are geared to create new pathways within the brain to regulate IBS symptoms, and this is wide in scope, because the sessions allow the person to use their own subconscious mind to determine which symptoms need to be addressed. This includes not only the physical symptoms of motility issues, such as diarrhea, constipation and alternation, but also bloating, abdominal and stomach pain, sleeplessness, anxiety over travel, and anything else that is specifically needed by the user.2. Is hypnotherapy suitable for me whether I feel "stressed out" or not? What if stress and anxiety just aren't my biggest triggers?Many of my in-person hypnotherapy patients, as well as users of the at-home program, have reported that their symptoms came 'out of the blue' and were not really triggered by anything stressful, nor were they particularly anxious individuals. Quite a few have said they were just going about their normal day, even relaxing, watching TV, when they were struck by IBS symptoms. From that initial "episode" there would be quite a bit of time until the next one, until they came closer together, and in most cases, not only became more frequent, but more intense or painful and perhaps longer in duration. I have had many patients who are actually quite laid back in temperament, and it is only because they have IBS that they would even consider themselves under stress - the stress of having IBS. This is mentioned to me by patients continually - that they never really had anxiousness or stress until they had IBS. It's sort of a chicken - egg conundrum. The upshot is that an IBS sufferer need not be concerned in the least that they "need" to be stressed or anxious in order to consider the hypnotherapy program. Of course, stress and anxiety issues are presented as part of the various aspects of the condition, but certainly not essential ones in order to see benefit from the sessions. It is much more likely that stress can make IBS worse at times once you have it.
 

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I don't think anyone here doubts that IBS is a brain/gut dysfunction. But I do find it hard to believe that sessions of hypnotherapy can undo years of learned behaviour. How can a hypno-therapist possibly understand your personal history, your colon, your physiological responses - everything that gradually led to having IBS? I'm wondering in my case if it's partly genetic. My father took ages to go, so I remember when I was a child at least I must have been "normal" as I used to wonder why he took so long. On the other side, my mother's mother had constant flatulence, whereas my mother had no digestive problems at all. I know both of my children are completely different. One is super fast to go, the other a bit like me sadly, it takes him up to an hour. The same genes though, and the same nagging from me about how important it is to go when you get the urge. My son also has a very sensitive stomach. Is IBS then initially caused by random, genetic bad luck? IBS means a colon hypersensitivity as well as motility dysfunction for most of us. Some people have severe peanut allergies which is another form of hypersensitivity, but this is recognised as a medical problem. I don't think anyone would seriously suggest hypnotherapy to cure this, so why would colon hypersensitivity be treated differently to an allergy hypersensitivity? Is it simply because the colon is such a difficult area to test? Wouldn't you be better off treating the hypersensitivity by diet and the motility issues by allowing more time?I know my mind and colon work as one but after decades of this condition the damage has been done. You can't undo history. The brain within the colon is set in its ways, just as your character is set in its ways. Hypnotherapy could no more change the nature of your colon as it could the nature of your mind.
 

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Yes, I can very much appreciate your comments here as I shared your thoughts and more 12 years ago when I came to this board and hypnotherapy was suggested to me for my very severe IBS-D/pain.IBS is not the same as food allergies or food insensitivies - these cannot be treated with hypnotherapy.And certainly you can treat IBS with diet, medications, supplements and all manner of various treatment options - most people do, including myself as well.But hypnotherapy can and indeed does change the 'nature of your colon' - which is 'very much set in its ways'! In fact, this is mentioned as part of the content in the sessions of hypnotherapy -how the motility patterns are set and the sessions break these patterns through the subconscious mind to either speed up (as in constipation) or slow down (D) the motility and find proper balance. This method does not work for every single person, just as any other treatment might not - however, it has an excellent track record in helping IBS, and for most people, this is the method they use as a last resort, when all else has failed.I posted as you did - how could anything like this work on the intestines/colon - the problem is in my gut? I totally understand where you are coming from!But there have been clinical research studies since 1984 showing it helps - as well as mostly positive feedback from users in posts as far back as 2001 found here; http://www.ibsgroup.org/forums/topic/5373-cbt-and-hypnotherapy-successes/This method may not be for you specifically, but it has worked remarkably well for many others for years!I would be happy to help if you have any questions - but if not...All the best to you and I hope you find your way forward to be helped for your own IBS - Take care!
 
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