Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A recent meta-analysis (KT Laird et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016; 14: 937-47) of 41 randomized, controlled trials shows that psychological therapies improved symptoms of irritable bowel in adults.

Key finding:

  • “On average, individuals who received psychotherapy had a greater reduction in GI symptoms after treatment than 75% of individuals assigned to a control condition…This effect remained significant” for at least 6-12 months.

A summary of this study from  Psychological Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Excerpt of commentary by Dr. Christopher Almario:

While these findings are impressive and continue to support the use of psychotherapy in IBS, important issues remain. First, these results are based on data gathered in the highly controlled environment of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and it is unclear whether they will translate to the “real world.” RCT participants may be more willing to complete psychotherapy because they know they are being observed by research staff (referred to as the Hawthorne, or observer, effect). However, in real clinical practice, patients with IBS not subject to the Hawthorne effect may be less compliant with such therapies.

Other issues relate to the current limited adoption of psychotherapy in clinical practice. Factors contributing to the low uptake include variable third-party reimbursement and poor patient and provider acceptance (JAMA. 2015 Mar;313:949-58). Another factor is limited access to qualified psychotherapists.

My take: I often refer patients to a “pain psychologist” who works in our office.  With the right psychologist, this can be very helpful.  In addition, I feel that families are more willing to see a psychologist than in the past.

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