Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for IBS

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help With IBS?

woman on a call at lunch looking concerned

By Laura Cipullo, Whole Nutrition Services Team

Has anyone ever told you that you can only relieve your IBS symptoms through medication or nutrition? Well, we are here to tell you that you can also help alleviate symptoms with one of the most powerful organs in your body, the brain. In this blog, we will discuss how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective improving bowel symptoms, psychological distress, and quality of life.

Understanding what IBS is

IBS and other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID’s) are conditions characterized by the interaction between the brain and the gut. In simpler terms, this implies that there is a communication issue between the central nervous system (our brain) and the enteric nervous system (our gut) regarding our digestion, appetite, thoughts, and emotions. The connection between the brain and the gut is referred to as the brain-gut axis, and it relies on chemical messengers, including serotonin, for communication. Serotonin, which is commonly associated with mood, sleep, appetite, and sex drive, is also present in the gut. Therefore, this demonstrates the close relationship between our emotional state and the functioning of our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. So what does this actually mean? In essence, the functioning of our GI tract has an impact on our emotions, and reciprocally, our emotions can affect the functioning of our GI tract.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and how will it help my IBS?

CBT is a type of psychotherapy originally developed and used to treat mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. It uses techniques by addressing how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors can positively or negatively affect our emotional state. A recent research study from 2021 examined individuals with IBS before and after CBT.  Following the CBT intervention period, these individuals had a significant decrease in abdominal pain unpleasantness, IBS symptom intensity, negative mood ratings, and perceived stress.

CBT Techqniues for managing IBS:

  1. Identify and challenge negative thoughts: This helps individuals recognize and change unhelpful or distorted thinking patterns that contribute to increased stress, anxiety, and worry about their symptoms. By challenging and reframing these thoughts, individuals can reduce the psychological impact of IBS and develop a more positive outlook on the situation. 
  2. Reduce stress and use relaxation techniques: Relaxation technique to help reduce stress include as deep breathing, journaling, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditations. By learning and practicing these techniques, individuals can potentially reduce the severity and frequency of their symptoms.
  3. Behavioral strategies: Modifying behaviors such as dietary habits, exercise routines, and lifestyle factors that may trigger or exacerbate symptoms. By making positive changes in these areas, individuals may experience a reduction in symptom severity and an improvement in overall well-being.
  4. Develop coping skills: Coping skills includes developing problem-solving skills, enhancing communication and assertiveness, and fostering resilience.
  5. Education and self-monitoring: Individuals are encouraged to keep symptom diaries or use other self-monitoring techniques to track their symptoms, identify triggers, and recognize patterns. This process helps individuals gain insight into their condition and empowers them to take an active role in managing their symptoms.

It’s important to note that CBT is typically conducted by a trained therapist or mental health professional experienced in working with individuals with IBS. If you or someone you know is experiencing IBS, we at LCWNS are here to tailor to your specific needs, as well as, provide personalized guidance and support throughout the treatment process.



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