7 reasons you should try talk therapy for your IBD/IBS

You might be wondering how counselling could help with your inflammatory bowel condition. It’s a fair question, particularly as it is rarely something suggested by medical professionals* (however, neither is seeing a nutritionist, which might be even more bizarre). I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease nine years ago and found, after some time, that counselling was in fact incredibly helpful in helping me to live better with my condition for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the main reasons why, if you’re suffering with IBD or IBS, talk therapy could benefit you.


1. Your condition will have taken its toll on you

Aside from everything else, your condition will likely have made your life harder. Physical demands will no doubt have become mental demands, and exhaustion, pain and discomfort are more than likely getting to you. Sharing some of that pain and frustration with a professional can help ease the suffering. You might not wish to worry loved ones any further and, to a certain extent, putting on a brave face in other areas of life may still be something that you feel is necessary. Therapy can be a space to face and share your suffering and to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

2. Your medical treatment will only do so much

This is by no means a denigration of medical treatments - medicine works wonders and saves lives, and this article is promoting therapy as something designed to go alongside your medical treatment, not to replace it. But, a great deal of the time, your medication is only treating the symptoms, and is only part of the healing.

If you continue with your same lifestyle, with the same stress and anxiety in your life, then flare-ups are likely to continue and medication will only act to put out fires. It’s not anti-science to focus on your thoughts and feelings to heal you either, as every specialist will tell you (and I’m sure you know yourself) that your symptoms are at least exacerbated by stress and anxiety in your life.

Medication is only part of what can keep you healthy but is no more important than sleep, lifestyle, diet and mental well-being. And this is not snake oil that therapy is promising, this is not a cure for Crohn’s, but a holistic approach is going to give you the best chance of better health.

3. Help you to change your behaviours and live more healthily

A lot of the time, we know what we need to do to improve our health and reduce the risk of flare-ups. We know we should quit smoking, drink less, avoid certain foods, rest well, meditate, etc. But this is much easier said than done. Therapy can help you to be more aware of what you need, can help you feel more attuned to your body and therapy and/or coaching can really help you stick to and achieve your health goals.

4. Emotions are held in the gut

Anger, anxiety, sadness and elation are all held primarily in the gut. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. Getting in touch with these emotions in therapy and being able to explore, identify, understand, accept and share these issues can be of tremendous relief to your gut.

Just as a massage can free a knot in your back, expressing emotions stored in the gut can untie emotional knots in your stomach.

Finding effective ways for you to deal better with stress and anxiety, will almost certainly lead to your condition improving. Particularly as many of the ways we tend to cope are often detrimental to our health.

5. Accepting your condition

It is very common to live in denial and battle on, as if you are not sick. It might have been a healthy coping mechanism for many other aspects of your life, as positivity and perseverance can be beneficial, but it can become an unhealthy form of denial that is preventing you from taking the care you need.

Through therapy, you can learn to accept your diagnosis and come to terms with it, rather than running from it. It might only be once you have accepted it that you can take the necessary steps to live more healthily. Often, this can lead to a better quality of life, such as learning how to relax and embracing that relaxation (rather than feeling guilty about it), and learning to find joy in doing less. Counterintuitively, you might find that your condition can become a blessing if it leads to your perspective on life changing as a result of this work.

6. Expressing yourself

Firstly, in the therapy room, learning to share what is going on for us inside, and then taking this into our relationships in the wider world can really help with that holding on we might be doing in our gut. The more comfortable we can feel with being our authentic selves and not hiding our condition can be of great benefit, both to our condition and the quality of our relationships.

7. Going deeper

Where has your condition come from? Sometimes the roots of our condition can date back long before our diagnosis. A psychodynamic approach can allow you to explore these possible roots:

  • Did you keep things in as a child?
  • What was your relationship with food?
  • How did you feel about going to the toilet?
  • How did you experience illness?

This can all be part of painting a picture of how you live with your condition today and untangling this can help you to free yourself from unconsciously learnt beliefs and behaviours that may no longer be beneficial for you.

This is a far from exhaustive list that just scratches the surface of how therapy might help heal you.

Contact me via my Counselling Directory Profile for further information.

*Crohn’s and Colitis UK suggests counselling for IBD.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, City of Bristol, BS3 1JD
Written by Martin Conway, MSc, MBACP, BA Hons
Bristol, City of Bristol, BS3 1JD

I have specialised in working with clients with IBD and IBS over the past 3 years and am able to draw upon my first-hand experiences having lived with Crohn’s for 9 years (and much longer before my diagnosis I’m sure) and am familiar with a variety of techniques that address the themes that I have identified as frequently coming up for IBD clients.

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