CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptom Management

Can CBT Help Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome?


Relief Report 030: CBT?

Relief Report 030: Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Help Treat IBS?To get clear on your Triggers, download our checklist here https://stephanieclairmont.com/triggerchecklist

Posted by Stephanie Clairmont, RD on Monday, February 19, 2018

What do you think of when you hear psychotherapy? How about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? Do you picture the classic image of someone lying on a couch telling their doctor about all their feelings? Actually, many psychotherapies today don’t resemble this picture at all! Psychotherapies offer a wide range of techniques that can help us manage a lot of different issues that arise in our lives, including our IBS and other digestive health symptoms.


What is Psychotherapy?


Psychotherapy is a form of treatment has been used in the past to treat mentally ill people. Now, it has evolved to help all kinds of people deal with all sorts of difficulties such as personal crises, behavioral problems, or relationship problems. Psychotherapies can help increase a person’s well being and address any underlying issues or challenges they may be experiencing. Psychotherapies are most often provided by psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers who are registered with their local psychology association which is responsible for regulating their practice.


CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is a psychotherapy that uses a range of techniques to help us access and change our thought processes. CBT is an umbrella term for a range of different therapies including psychoanalysis and humanistic theory. CBT is generally a short term therapy that uses psychosocial techniques. Some of these techniques include exposure therapy, relaxation training, self-management. These techniques are used  to help people gain the skills necessary to deal with different life situations. When undergoing CBT, psychologists will help you create strategies and skills to deal with problems that are affecting you. What’s great about CBT is that it can be done in a group or individual format – whichever you feel more comfortable in. CBT is a widely available form of psychotherapy in Canada and the USA.


women writing on paper, blue pen, wood table


CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Which Type Works Best?


There are many different types of cognitive behavioral therapy that can help with IBS.


One of the cognitive behavioral therapies being used to help manage IBS symptoms is called exposure therapy. In this form of CBT, participants get to practice being exposed to their fears while in a controlled and safe environment. For example, if you fear those public bathroom visits, this type of therapy offers strategies and skills to help you deal with the anxiety that these situations may cause. Exposure therapy can help you get more comfortable in different environments which can help reduce the stress that comes along with having IBS. Exposure therapy sessions may include imagining you are in a stressful situation, or might even have you directly address the stressful situation in a safe environment. After working through some of the things that cause you fear, anxiety, and stress, you may be asked to imagine being in different situations that previously caused you to experience these feelings to see if your stress has decreased.


Another type of therapy being used for IBS symptom management is hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is a type of CBT that uses deep relaxation to help reduce symptoms. It can help us become more aware of what is going on in our bodies and therefore helps us identify what is triggering our symptoms. We all know there can be major stress around dealing with IBS symptom flare ups, but hypnosis may help to reduce our stress so we can reduce our symptoms and better manage them.


CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Does it Work?


Before we get into the research that supports CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, we want to remind you that CBT is not a cure for IBS. It is an additional form of therapy that you might consider alongside diet strategies and working with your doctor to determine the best way to manage your symptoms.


When it comes to CBT for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hypnotherapy and exposure therapy have been found to have the most beneficial effects for IBS symptom management. In a study published in Clinical Psychology Review, it was found that those who received CBT had improved cognitions – this simply means that they were better at managing their thoughts.


More specifically when comparing relaxation therapy to CBT, CBT had the best results in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Exposure therapy was also found to reduce gastrointestinal problems and improve daily functioning in those with IBS. In this study, researchers found that those who used CBT for longer periods of time were no better off than those who had less treatment. This means that you don’t necessarily need to commit to CBT for a long period of time in order to see results. There was also no difference seen in the results from group therapy compared to individual therapy, so if group therapy is a little more affordable, then this might be a great option for you to start out with to see if it’s for you! Finally, the article also discussed the benefits of online vs. in person therapies. Interestingly it was found that online therapies produced larger improvements for IBS patients.


CBT is just one of many potentially effective approaches to help you decrease stress, but many other techniques may help this too. Don’t forget about the option to relax with some IBS yoga movements or get in some other form of gentle exercise.


breath, greenery


How Can I Find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for IBS?


If you’re interested in giving CBT a try as part of your plan for managing IBS symptoms, you will want to get in touch with a registered psychologist. First, you’ll need to search for the College of psychologists that is local to you. Note, this type of college is not the educational kind, it’s the organization that governs and regulates the practice of registered health professionals, like psychologists. For example, in Ontario there is the Ontario College of psychologists. Once you have found the College near you, their website will likely have a directory of some sort where you will be able to see a list of names of the psychologists in your area. These psychologists are registered, which means they must uphold certain standards of practice. If you find a psychologist that is not a member of this body, they are not properly registered and therefore not regulated. This is similar to the process you would use when looking for a registered dietitian.


From there, you can look up online or contact a few psychologists and see what types of therapies they offer and specialize in. Another way to get in touch with a psychologist is to ask your medical practitioner for a referral.


Is CBT Right for Me?


So, is CBT for you? Maybe it is maybe it’s not. CBT is simply an alternative form of therapy that can help you manage stress and the pain associated with the physical symptoms of IBS. CBT may not fit into everyone’s life, but if you aren’t having any success with other methods, it’s a safe option to try. It can be a great way to try and identify some of your non-food triggers in safe environments too! Working with a psychologist can help you tune into the cues your body is providing, and might help reduce your suffering associated with IBS symptoms.


With everyone having different triggers and coping methods, CBT can be a way for you to help manage your symptoms. While working through the Clairity program, cognitive behavioral therapy can help to reduce the stress that may be associated with those IBS flare ups. In conjunction with CBT and Clarity, working through and identifying your triggers can help manage IBS better and improve your daily functioning. While CBT may not be for everyone, the best thing to do is try it out. There are many types of therapies and options, so it can work with whatever your lifestyle and schedule is like. CBT may be the answer to helping with your triggers and life management, so maybe it will be your new thing to try in this year.

The first step if you’re looking to improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or another digestive disorder or disease, is to understand more about the Low FODMAP diet and if it can help. Download my free eBook to help you better understand this diet and get started implementing simple steps to get rid of symptoms like gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea or constipation related to IBS. Click here to get a copy emailed to you right away.


Wishing you much love & wellness,



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