April 3, 2019
Teletherapy—the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via two-way video conferencing—is gaining in popularity because it makes help available to busy, infirm, or remotely located patients.
Now, a study conducted at the Neurogastroenterology Unit of Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, England—and published in February by the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis—has found that combining teletherapy with hypnosis can offer an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
The researchers, lead by Shariq S. Hasan, a public health specialist, found that the unusual combination of mind-body therapy—coupled with the use of Skype—helped ease IBS pain and distress, even from afar, Psychology Today reports.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects roughly 10% to 15% of the population, and causes significant physical and psychological distress. People who have IBS suffer from frequent diarrhea, constipation, or both of these; as well as GI pain and other physical symptoms. For many, these symptoms generate considerable anxiety related to traveling due to fears of diarrhea and incontinence. The combination of distress and GI symptoms, including fears of losing control of one’s bowels, can thus make it difficult for IBS patients to make it to additional health care and other appointments.
Patients with IBS are frequently prescribed any of a variety of medications, as well as dietary changes, to manage symptoms. Yet, for some people, these approaches fail to result in adequate symptom relief.
That’s where hypnosis comes in: Hypnosis has been shown to help with a number of IBS-related symptoms. For example, once the patient is in a more relaxed, yet focused state (often referred to as a trance state), he or she can more easily take in suggestions aimed at fostering greater bodily comfort; as well as decreased pain, stress, and anxiety.
For this study, the research team enrolled 20 IBS patients, who then received 12 sessions of hypnotherapy. The first session was conducted in person, but the remainder were conducted via Skype. The data from these 20 participants was then compared to that of another, original 1,000-person study.
The Skype study participants completed the same questionnaires as had the larger cohort—including measures of IBS severity, pain, anxiety and depression, and quality of life, Psychology Today notes. They also filled out a measure of noncolonic symptoms (such as nausea, heartburn, headaches, or lethargy), which frequently accompany IBS.
At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found significantly fewer participants reported having severe IBS symptoms. Hypnosis was also associated with statistically significant reductions in both noncolonic symptom severity and anxiety, and significant improvement in quality of life. The reduction in depression symptoms approached but did not quite reach statistical significance.
The data from the Skype group were also compared to those of participants in the larger, in-person hypnosis study. Although the degree of improvement on most outcomes was somewhat greater for in-person hypnosis, after adjusting for age, there was no statistically significant difference between the Skype and in-person groups with regard to improvement in IBS symptoms and pain.
These findings seem important both for people who have inadequate relief from medications and dietary changes and in general for those dealing with painful gastrointestinal and related symptoms, the authors say. It’s worth noting that the Skype study was small, and it will be important to conduct further research with larger numbers of participants.
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