The field of gastroenterology is learning more and more about the powerful connection between the brain and the gut. When the brain and gut are not communicating effectively this may result in a problem called brain-gut dysregulation.

This dysregulation can lead to changes in motility—how things move through the gut—and in sensation and perception. It can increase the sensitivity of the nerves in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract so they overreact to normal digestive functions, and can impact how the brain processes pain, so the pain messages become more intense.

Dysregulation can be caused by a combination of things including the fight-or-flight response, hormonal changes, nerve signaling, the gut microbiome, stress and more. Psychological interventions such as hypnosis target brain-gut dysfunction to improve GI health.

The Behavioral Medicine for Digestive Health program is fully integrated into the Northwestern Medicine Department of Medicine and Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The service is staffed* by psychologists and health psychology trainees with specialized training in digestive diseases, who will work directly with your gastroenterologist to coordinate your care.

All of our therapists are trained in hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy. These psychological interventions have proven efficacy in a number of well-controlled clinical trials and are widely accepted as the most effective psychological interventions for GI conditions.

How hypnosis works

Gut-directed hypnotherapy helps people achieve a very relaxed state of focused attention, called trance, and then targets the dysregulation between the brain and gut by providing specific suggestions to improve communication between the brain and gut. The suggestions help shift attention away from distressing gut stimuli so patients, even out of trance, find that they are not focusing on those sensations as much. Hypnotherapy can also help to decrease the intensity of the signaling from the GI tract so mild/moderate symptoms may become more tolerable. Most people find hypnosis to be relaxing and enjoyable. Our trained therapists help patients to use their own abilities to get into this very focused trance state, and patients are in complete control throughout the session and are fully aware of everything that occurs.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy is a time-limited treatment, and most patients see significant symptom improvement by the end of the course of treatment, which is typically four to seven sessions, with one session every other week.Treatment is tailored to the specific symptoms and responses of the patient presenting for treatment. The vast majority of people are able to effectively learn and benefit from self-hypnosis. In fact, research tells us that about 85 percent of people are able to achieve at least a light trance, which is enough to benefit from this treatment. However, some patients are not good candidates for hypnotherapy. At the first visit, your therapist will ask you questions to help come up with the best treatment plan for you.

Locations & Contact Information

    In the spirit of keeping you well-informed, some of the physician(s) and/or individual(s) identified are neither agents nor employees of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare or any of its affiliate organizations. They have selected our facilities as places where they want to treat and care for their private patients.