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Cognitive Behavior Therapy for IBS

This Form Of Psychotherapy Can Help You Control Your Negative Thoughts

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Updated January 10, 2014

Therapy Session

Don't let the word "therapy" throw you -- cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is not traditional psychotherapy. CBT is more like training for your thoughts.

Photo © Ambro
What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is really a combination of two forms of therapy--cognitive and behavior.

Behavior therapy helps redefine the associations between bothersome circumstances and a patient's typical reaction to those circumstances. Stress or other occurrences in every day life may lead to reactions such as depression, fear, rage, or self-damaging behavior. Patients are taught how to calm the body and the mind. This leads to better thought processes and improved decision making.

Cognitive therapy examines the relationship between thoughts and symptoms. Certain types of thoughts can lead to false perceptions about everyday problems. These types of thoughts can cause anxiety, depression, or even anger.

Does CBT Really Work?

Very strong research supports the use of CBT. In treating both depression and anxiety, CBT is just as effective as medication. Once treatment is completed, it is also helpful for use in preventing relapses. CBT is the only type of psychotherapy that has been proven effective by research.

In 1995 a study on the effectiveness of CBT was done at the State University of New York at Albany. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who completed 8 weeks of therapy has fewer symptoms than those who had no therapy or those who participated in a self-help group.

What Happens In CBT?

In the Albany Multicomponent Behavioral Therapy Program for IBS, sessions take place over twelve weeks. Sessions are twice a week for the first 8 weeks, then weekly for the next 4.

CBT is similar to taking a class. The therapist and patient work together to achieve goals and determine which techniques are effective. The first assignment (which is given before the treatment actually starts) is to keep a diary of IBS symptoms. This is the baseline that will be used to determine if there is any improvement over the course of the therapy.

The first few sessions are mostly informational, question and answer periods. Patients learn more about IBS and bowel function in general. Concurrently, muscle relaxation techniques are taught.

Biofeedback is covered in later sessions, and patients learn to gain more control over their reactions to stress. CBT involves homework assignments. This is a continuation of the work that is done with the therapist during sessions. It helps the patient to integrate the techniques learned in class into their daily life.

In later sessions, positive self-talk is used to disrupt negative thoughts. Finally, patients learn to get to the ideas that are at the root of their automatic negative responses and how those thoughts relate to IBS symptoms.

Find a CBT provider in your area:
The Academy of Cognitive Therapy: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Romania, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA

Amber J. Tresca

Amber J. Tresca
About.com Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

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