This type of psychotherapy treats irritable bowels

(Credit: Getty Images)

Psychotherapy is just as effective as medications in reducing the severity of symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, past research shows.

Now, psychologists at Vanderbilt University have looked at different types of psychotherapy to determine which is best at improving the ability of IBS patients to participate in daily activities. They found that one form, called cognitive behavior therapy, was the most effective.

“Evaluating daily function is important because it distinguishes between someone who experiences physical symptoms but can fully engage in work, school, and social activities and someone who cannot,” says Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt’s clinical psychology program.

Laird and colleagues analyzed 31 studies, which provided data for over 1,700 individuals who were randomly assigned to receive either psychotherapy or a control condition such as support groups, education, or wait-lists.

Overall, those who received psychotherapy showed greater gains in daily functioning compared to those assigned to a control condition. However, individuals assigned to receive cognitive behavior therapy or CBT experienced larger improvements than those who received other types of therapy.

What is CBT and how does it work?

CBT is an umbrella term for a number of different therapies, each of which is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, physiology, and behavior are interrelated. Treatments are designed to help people develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving with the goal of reducing psychological distress and physiological arousal.

Does IBS cause men more social trouble?

The researchers speculate that the greater improvement observed in patients who received CBT may be due to the fact that treatments often incorporate “exposure:” a technique in which individuals gradually expose themselves to uncomfortable situations.

For someone with IBS, this could include long road trips, eating out at restaurants, and going places where bathrooms are not readily accessible.

“Encouraging individuals to gradually confront such situations may increase their ability to participate in a wider range of activities,” says Laird, first author of the study published in the Clinical Psychology Review. “But more research is needed before we can say why CBT appears more effective for improving functioning in IBS compared to other therapy types.”

Source: Vanderbilt University