Well it would seem that it can! As there a is now a large body of very positive research showing that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (one of the so called “talking therapies”) can have a very beneficial impact on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a very distressing functional bowel disorder where sufferers can endure years of chronic symptoms. These contribute to low mood, lack of self worth and can result in anxiety, depression or feelings of anger all linked to their perceived inability to control their bodies.
Although individuals with IBS may not suffer from anxiety in general, they may be extremely anxious and ‘catastrophise’ about the symptoms and sensations associated with their condition (abdominal pain, or diarrhea). This symptom-specific anxiety is characterised by increased fear and worry and greater attention being paid to bodily sensations.
Unpredictable gastro-intestinal (GI) symptoms lead to anxiety, and anxiety can lead to GI symptoms. This creates a vicious cycle. Patients believe they must limit themselves to ‘safe’ places and activities and avoid any situation that might be associated with symptoms. These beliefs, feelings and behaviours which are initially used to try and limit anxiety actually increase and prolong anxiety overall.
CBT/REBT, which targets the habitual thoughts, dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours commonly, associated with this disorder helps suffers of IBS by helping them to understand that their bodies will physically react to their thoughts. It shows patients how this fear and anxiety may worsen their IBS symptoms. In challenging these negative thinking patterns and behaviours and substituting more constructive and helpful strategies patients are able to reduce their anxiety and in turn reduce their symptoms. The vicious circle is broken.
Moya Layton – Lecturer CCBT