"The majority of IBS patients seem to show some improvement with behavioral therapy," says Philip Schoenfeld, MD, MSEd, MSc. He is the co-author of the IBS treatment guidelines published by the American College of Gastroenterology.
Many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) turn to laxatives to relieve constipation, but laxatives usually offer limited help.
Although laxatives do ease constipation, there's no proof that they relieve stomach aches, bloating, and discomfort that come with IBS. That's because the drugs have never been thoroughly studied for the treatment of IBS in randomized controlled trials. In these trials, people are randomly assigned to different treatments without knowing which one they receive. Researchers...
Behavioral therapy helps people learn how to better cope with pain and discomfort, and how to relieve stressful situations in order to help ward off severe IBS symptoms.
Unfortunately, behavioral therapy is not a cure-all. Some studies have shown the strategy does nothing for symptoms of constipation and constant stomach aches. Other studies show it's best used with standard medical care. Before starting any form of therapy, talk with your doctor about how it may fit into your overall treatment plan.
There are many different types of behavioral therapy. Here are techniques that have worked in some people with IBS:
Relaxation therapy. The goal is to get the mind and body in a calm, peaceful state. Techniques include meditation, progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and loosening individual muscles), guided imagery (visualization), and deep breathing.
Biofeedback. This strategy uses an electrical device to help people recognize their body's response to stress. Participants are taught, with the machine's help, to slow down their heart rate to a more relaxed state. After a few sessions, people are able to calm themselves down on their own.
Hypnotherapy. Participants enter an altered state of consciousness, either with a trained professional's help or on their own (after training). In this altered condition, visual suggestions are made to imagine pain or tension going away.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is a form of psychotherapy that teaches you to analyze negative, distorted thoughts, and replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts.
Traditional Psychotherapy. A trained mental health professional helps patients work out conflicts and understand feelings.