How can cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help treat a GI disorder?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, involves working with a therapist to reframe negative ways of thinking and behaviors that affect a person's gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and quality of life. The goal is to change counterproductive thoughts and actions and learn new coping skills. This may be accomplished through a number of techniques, including changing negative thought patterns, learning stress management and relaxation techniques, modeling healthy behaviors, and role playing. CBT can reduce the stress of dealing with a functional GI disorder so that the disorder is no longer the focal point of a person's life. As stress decreases, symptoms often improve, and in turn stress and anxiety improve even further. In fact, in a study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, 70% reported less pain, bloating, and diarrhea after 12 weeks of CBT.

Many mental health professionals practice CBT, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses. Most cognitive behavioral therapists are not specifically trained in treating irritable bowel syndrome or other functional GI disorders unless they are associated with a clinic that specializes in treating these conditions. More likely, you will be taught more general techniques that you can apply to your specific situation. To find a trained cognitive behavioral therapist, consult your doctor or health plan, or visit the Web site of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Make sure your therapist has a license to practice in your state.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.