Why Are Some Patients with GI Disorders Turning to Health Psychologists for Treatment?

Behavioral treatments may help reduce severity of symptoms for conditions such as Crohn’s disease.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy could significantly reduce symptom severity in patients with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.

Biochemical signaling between the brain and GI tract can have a negative impact on gastrointestinal disorders. Stress can aggravate certain GI conditions, and worrying about or dwelling on severe pain, constipation, diarrhea, and other symptoms can make them worse, which results in added stress.

Now, health psychologists have begun treating patients with these disorders using behavioral therapy.

Sarah Kinsinger, PhD, a health psychologist at Loyola Medicine who specializes in treating GI disorders, offers patients behavioral treatments designed to target brain-gut pathways. The treatment provides patients with coping strategies to help manage symptoms and reduce stress.

Services Dr Kinsinger provides include cognitive-behavioral therapy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and behavioral relaxation techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and gut-directed hypnotherapy.

“It is very gratifying to see patients get better, after in some cases, suffering for many years,” Dr Kinsinger said. “Psychological and behavioral interventions do not cure their disease, but the treatments can provide patients with safe and effective coping mechanisms and greatly reduce the severity of their symptoms.”

In many patients, psychological and behavioral interventions can be more effective than medications, according to Dr Kinsinger. She typically sees patients for 5 to 7 sessions, and treatments are often covered by insurance.

Dr Kinsinger noted that treatment benefits vary among the different conditions. For IBS, psychological and behavior treatments can be the primary treatments. For conditions that have drugs already on the market, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, psychological and behavioral treatments can be effective adjuncts to these medications.