We have all heard the phrase “a nervous stomach”, but have you ever stopped to think about why nerves and emotions take such a toll on your gastrointestinal system? This link between our brain and our gut, referred to as the brain gut axis, can have important influence over events in our life. Enhancing communication between these two systems through gut directed hypnotherapy has been shown to positively influence gastrointestinal outcomes.
What is the Brain-Gut Axis?
The brain-gut axis refers to the bi-directional flow of information that takes place between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system. This means that our emotions and thoughts are linked to our digestion. For many people this communication pathway is malfunctioning. These “miscommunications” can result in pain, changes in bowel habits and even stress and anxiety. It is thought that if we can help one system we can help the other. Psychological interventions such as cognitive behavior therapy, antidepressants and clinical hypnosis (otherwise known as gut directed hypnotherapy) are aimed at enhancing these lines of communication and overall improving symptom management.
Gut Directed Hypnotherapy
When we hear hypnotherapy, most people envision an individuals complete control over another’s actions. With gut directed hypnotherapy (GDH) the individual remains in complete control and it is more likened to guided meditation. Gut directed hypnotherapy typically takes place over the course of six weeks and has been associated with long term symptom relief. As of now GDH is specifically targeted towards improving symptoms in those who suffer with IBS. The exact mechanism is unknown however a study by Monash University suggests that a deeply relaxed and focused state allows your brain to become open to suggestions on how to better communicate and control gut symptoms (https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/how-effective-is-gut-directed/). During a session the therapist or provider will guide individuals through a series of steps, providing imagery and suggestions to the subconscious, in an attempt to gain control of gastrointestinal functions.
What is a session like?
There are three stages to any GDH session. Each session takes roughly 20-30 minutes to complete. It is important to remember that a deeply relaxed state may take a few tries to reach. It is alright if your mind wanders initially as guided meditation and deeply relaxed states take practice to achieve.
First stage: Hypnotic induction or deep relaxation phase
· The therapist guides an individual through several relaxation techniques and exercises. Many times the focus is on breath work, muscle relaxation and bringing a sense of presence to the body.
· This is a skill that may take time and practice!
Second Stage: Visualization
· During the second stage an individual may be introduced to several images focusing on gut functions.
· Many times the imagery used is directly related to the individuals gastrointestinal needs, while other times imagery may include more generalized statements such as envisioning a helpful medication soothing your gastrointestinal tract.
Third Stage: suggestions to the unconscious mind
· During the final stage the therapist will present suggestions or statements regarding symptom management. These suggestions can include things such as: you will experience complete relief of “X” symptoms.
If you have uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms that have not been managed through traditional treatment, or if you’d like to learn more about gut directed hypnotherapy, our dietitians specializing in gastrointestinal conditions are here to help! Please visit nourishfamily.com to book your new client appointment.