Source:Vlieger AM, Menko-Frankenhuis C, Wolfkamp SC, et al. Hypnotherapy for children with functional abdominal pain or irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial.
–1436; doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2007.08.072

The purpose of this study, conducted in the Netherlands, was to examine the effectiveness of hypnotherapy compared to standard medical care in a pediatric population with functional abdominal pain (FAP) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Patients ages 8–18 years with either FAP (n=31) or IBS (n=22) were randomized to either hypnotherapy or standard medical care. Hypnotherapy was conducted at a site distant from the academic center by a registered nurse with years of training and experience in hypnotherapy. The hypnotherapy intervention consisted of six age-appropriate 50-minute sessions over a three-month period.

The goal of the hypnotherapy was to provide suggestions for general relaxation, sleep improvement, and “ego-strengthening.” Standard medical care consisted of physician-directed education, dietary advice, extra dietary fiber, and pain medication in addition to six half-hour sessions of “supportive therapy” conducted over a three-month period.

Patients in both groups maintained a pain diary card on which they recorded the daily frequency and intensity of abdominal pain and other somatic symptoms such as headache. Outcomes were assessed at baseline, one, four, eight, and 12 weeks after randomization and again six and 12 months post-therapy.

Gastrointestinal pain scores decreased significantly in both groups during and after treatment but reductions were significantly greater in the hypnotherapy group than in the standard medical care group. At one-year follow-up, there was an 85% remission among those in the hypnotherapy group compared to 25% in the standard medical care group. The response to hypnotherapy was similar in patients with IBS and FAP. Younger patients (<14 years) responded significantly better during and up to six months after treatment; however, these differences were not significant one year after treatment.

The authors conclude that, similar to adult studies,1 gut-directed hypnotherapy is an effective treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders in children.

Drs. Lobato and LeLeiko have disclosed no financial relationship relevant to this commentary. This commentary does not contain a discussion of an unapproved/investigative use of a commercial product/device.

Despite common images of hypnosis as a technique for inducing embarrassing behavior in comedy clubs, the serious use of psychological suggestion and trance states to alleviate human suffering can be traced back to ancient religious rituals and ceremonies.

Using modern scientific methods, investigators have not only delineated a relationship between psychological state and physical illness, they have also demonstrated the effectiveness of psychologically-based interventions to treat a variety of physical symptoms in adults and children.2 

Hypnotherapy is a treatment wherein suggestions are delivered after a patient is inducted into a hypnotic trance. Hypnotic trance is a deep state of psychological and physiological relaxation which leaves the patient more receptive to new ideas or therapeutic suggestion (eg, your stomach ache will go away).

Hypnotherapy has been successfully used to treat symptoms such as hysterical coughing and hiccups, asthma, and dermatologic disorders such as eczema and warts....

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