Can hypnosis help IBS patients?

Posted on November 28, 2011


Dateline: 1 November 2011 // Posted by: KHeintz27
Source: Reuters, PressTV, The Daily Express.

Story: “Hypnosis, even in ‘real world,’ may help IBS”

Summary: The main point of this article was to explain that hypnosis might be able to help lower some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.  There have been a number of studies since the 1980s that assert that “gut-directed” hypnosis can help patients when standard treatment fails.  This news item focuses on new Swedish research comprising two studies. In the studies, 138 IBS patients who had resisted standard therapy were randomly assigned to either a dozen sessions of hypnosis or to a control group.

In the first study, which focused on 90 patients in particular, 38 percent of the hypnosis patients were found to be treatment responders.  After three months, their symptoms dropped by at least 25 percent. In the control group, only 11 percent of patients showed lower symptoms.

In the second study, of 48 patients, one-quarter of the hypnosis group were responders compared to 13 percent of the controls.  The difference in the second study was not as big as in the first.  In this study, patients were given “suggestions” for normalizing their bowel function such as images of a river “floating smoothly.” The hypnosis patients said they had a bigger average drop in symptoms of pain and bloating. Hypnosis however is not a cure for IBS, but an improvement in symptoms can make a huge difference in a patient’s life.

Why is this PseudoNews?  This is PseduoNews because hypnosis is not necessarily scientific. When people are cured by hypnosis it can sometimes be considered a miracle or strong coincidence. When claims are made that say hypnosis can help cure a sickness without an understanding of how it is effective then it might be considered as verging on pseudoscience. Usually when the word hypnosis is said I automatically think of a hypnotist sitting in a dark, small room with a swinging watch waiting to memorize a person and put them to sleep. In shows and movies hypnotism always seems to be portrayed as a joke and never really looks like a procedure that could seriously help a person’s medical issue.

Sigmund Freud was one of the first people to come up with the term hypnosis and he also came up with the terms unconscious, and subconscious. But what do these terms really even mean? Does anyone have any proof to show that these terms actually exist? Since there is no real evidence to suggest that the unconscious exists hypnosis can be considered a pseudoscience.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? Some of the reasoning used to describe the results may constitute an argument from ignorance. In science if it is unproven as false it is unproven, but in pseudoscience if it is unproven as false it can be considered as true. Since hypnosis has never really been proven as effective or ineffective it is not seen as a false solution to psychological or medical problems. Even in this news story in the second study the results were so close that it is hard to tell if the hypnosis even had a difference on the patient or it was just a coincidence. Assuming that the effects are attributable to hypnosis instead of concluding that the outcomes are (at present) inexplicable may be premature.

The moral of the story: The main idea of this article was to prove that hypnosis lowers peoples’ symptoms of IBS.  Since the study was so small and the results were very close it is hard to tell if hypnosis even had an effect on the patients or if it is just a coincidence.