#029 Helen Bremner Explains How To Use Hypnotherapy To Relieve IBS Symptoms

Clinical studies have shown that hypnosis can be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

My guest, Helen Bremner, is a registered hypnotherapist and intensive care nurse from the UK. Helen created the only NHS hypnotherapy service for IBS. Her work has a 97% success rate for reduced symptoms and a 100% rate for patient satisfaction. She’s also won the first prize for the British Journal of Nursing and Gastrointestinal Innovation Award and the Gastrointestinal Nursing Journal Patient Care Award.

Helen provides high quality, ethical hypnotherapy and counselling and tailors therapy to each individual patient, helping them find solutions to their own problems by providing them with the tools to help themselves for life.

Helen has also published several articles in medical publications and her work has been recognised in several interviews including television, radio and podcasts.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What is hypnotherapy?
  • How is hypnotherapy distinguished from hypnosis?
  • How hypnotherapy compliments other treatments for IBS?
  • What is the exact connection of IBS and hypnotherapy?
  • How can hypnotherapy help IBS sufferers in general?
  • What is Helen’s method of handling IBS sufferers through hypnotherapy?
  • How many sessions of hypnotherapy are needed on average to help overcome IBS?
  • How Helen developed successful courses to help other hypnotherapists to treat IBS sufferers.


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Can’t listen to this episode right now? Read the transcript below!

HELEN: Hi Larah. Thank you for inviting me to chat with you today.

LARAH: It’s absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been wanting this interview for a very long time — from the very start of my podcast — so back in July of 2016 — because I think this is another option that we can present to people suffering from IBS.  Not an alternative to the diet, but something that can also be used to improve IBS symptoms that is really interesting. And this is hypnotherapy! But before we start to talk about hypnotherapy, would you like to tell the listeners about yourself and your background?

HELEN:  Yeah, okay. I’ve spent most of my career working as a nurse in intensive care and I thought that we did the saving lives part extremely well, but I was also absolutely sure that we could look after people emotionally a whole lot better than we were actually doing. And I felt that sometimes somehow we’d lost the human being in all of the staff due to the professional wish that we had to do what we were trained to do, which is the life savings and reducing the suffering. But as we also found out that there’s unfortunately very little mental health training which relates to mental health and well being. So unless you’re actually working in the mental health area, we didn’t really get very much training on how to look after someone’s well being, or emotional  state in an adult or a child type environment which i think is a huge mistake because you absolutely cannot separate the mind from the body. And, as I’m sure most people with IBS realise, the one always affects the other to a greater or lesser extent. So I decided to study hypnotherapy, as it seemed almost magical in the changes it could bring about for people so they weren’t enduring years of sitting in therapy. They were just having a few sessions, and that equipped them with a new confidence, new tools and new skills to help them cope with all of life’s challenges. My job in the NHS, the hypnotherapy job, was almost meant to be. The job was the only one in the country — in England and the UK completely — and it was located four miles from my front door. And after my interview, they said, “I think you’re the ideal person for the job.” And they told, quite unusually, the other people who didn’t get the job first, and they told me I had got the job afterwards. So, as it turned out, I was plan A,  B, and C!

LARAH: Wow, that’s amazing. And thank you very much for explaining your background to us and what you’ve been doing. Mentioning hypnotherapy, I know very well what hypnotherapy is because I had quite a few sessions. Back many years ago, in 2007, I was living back in London. I lived in England for ten years and went back for one year when my husband got a job there. And, all of a sudden, I couldn’t take the Tube anymore. It was a day that there was strike (of the underground workers); it was hot in the underground and I had to go down (quite deep underground), I was at Green Park and I was going three levels down. What is the grey line? Is it the Jubilee Line? And all of a sudden, while I was pushing the pram (I had my baby girl in the pram and my other girl and a friend of mine) I said to my friend, “I can’t breath.” So, I literally, just gave her the pram and said, “I’ve got to get out.” And I ran out and went back up the escalator and got to the entrance and was crying, and the people at the entrance were asking me, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?” I was having a panic attack, but as soon as I saw outside, I was fine. But from then onward, I could not catch the Underground, so I had to go around London by bus or walking, which, as you can imagine, is not very practical.

So someone suggested to me that I go see a hypnotherapist, and I think I went about seven times. The last time I went, he said, “I want you now, to go back to where you first had that panic attack and see how you feel.” So I went there, and it was a very weird sensation. I almost felt like the panic attack was coming up, but my brain sent it away. — the heat rush, sweaty palms and the trembling knees and the breathing accelerating — and then my brain kind of sent it away. So I was able to go to the Underground, which I thought was amazing because I believed I was going to be unable to ever take the Underground. So, there you go.

HELEN: So that’s a good story there, and you’ve got that personal experience of the suffering, plus the change that you can do with a hypnotherapy session, so that’s an amazing story.

LARAH: Yes, absolutely. So I am an advocate for hypnotherapy, but I never really related to how it could help IBS sufferers until I came across you. And it was one of the podcasts where you were a guest, maybe a couple of years ago, that I heard what hypnotherapy could do for IBS sufferers, so I thought it would be really interesting for my audience to have you here on the podcast. So, for those who don’t know what hypnotherapy is, could you please explain it?

HELEN: Yes, absolutely. Well, very inconveniently, there’s no agreed definition of hypnosis or hypnotherapy. But the way I like to describe hypnosis — it’s like a natural state, quite like daydreaming — and I believe we all go into hypnosis, or a trance-like state, several times a day, particularly when we lose track of time when we’re on the internet, chatting to friends, reading, or watching TV or films. It’s not sleep; you’re completely in control and aware of the films. You’re not forced to do anything you do not want to do, but you’re a little out of awareness. There’s somebody around you, if you’re in a trance state, that may have to say something two or more times to get your attention, but you not being made consciously aware of how you got home if you drive a particular route every day, yet your inner attention is focused to where it’s needed to be. So if you’re talking about driving home automatically for example, you’re not driving with your eyes shut, but you are less aware of what you’re doing because your focus and attention is somewhere else. I think of hypnosis as a process of an altered state of consciousness — so that awareness change — which allows access to that automatic and unconscious behaviours and thoughts. Hypnotherapy is treatment which utilises features of hypnosis to create that positive change for you. And it actively uses the  hypnosis to help you relax, if you want to, and focus your attention on resolving any issues or problems. With the right help and guidance you don’t need to be relaxed at all to do hypnotherapy, but due to many people’s problems or just human nature itself, most of my clients or patients have appreciated that opportunity to relax deeply just as an added bonus to the therapy on top. You can have hypnosis without therapy, such as you might see on the television or street performers and stage performers, and hypnotic phenomena that way, but you can’t have hypnotherapy without the use of some form of hypnosis.

LARAH: Could you explain to the listeners again, the difference between hypnotherapy and hypnosis?

HELEN: I would say hypnosis, you can just do hypnosis to some things. You can induce an altered state of consciousness, but there’s no therapy to it. So some of the stage stuff that you see, imagining that some inanimate object is something real, and then either being frightened of it — which isn’t a great idea and something that we find very funny. That’s the use of hypnosis because that item by itself wouldn’t be hilariously funny unless the person had been hypnotically suggested that it would be funny. Whereas hypnotherapy is using that change, that belief, that suggestive state, and using it therapeutically to make some changes like you would have in normal or other therapies like psychotherapy, like counselling. It’s using those things to actually make something happen. One of my patients once described it like this: counselling is a two-dimensional, and hypnotherapy is the full HD, 3D and immersive experience of it. I think he was quite right with that expression.

LARAH: Yes, so that’s a good way of explaining it, for sure. And having tried hypnotherapy personally, I have to say it was, for me, very much a state of relaxation — a very good sensation where you let everything go. The therapists tell you to close your eyes and to not open them until they tell you to. It’s very strange, but you don’t have a wish to open those eyes even though you know you could open them.

Yeah, it’s interesting.  Do you think that nowadays there are more people that are open minded to hypnotherapy compared to ten or fifteen years ago?

HELEN: I think many people are more open minded now then maybe they once were. There’s a higher positive profile to the television programs. Like in the UK, we have The Mentalist, and there’s magician acts like Darren Brown. It’s an exciting and clever use of hypnosis rather than some of the sinister previous, evil portrayal we’ve had on television and films. And evil mind manipulators who can get innocent victims to do anything they want them to. And now we’re hearing more stories about celebrities employing hypnotists to help them lose weight. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has done that for weight loss. Matt Damon has apparently used it for smoking cessation, and Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Tiger Wood have stopped stuttering with it. And, I believe, Jessica Alba and Kate Middleton used it for childbirth. So, personally, I didn’t hypnotise these people — these famous guys — so if I’m saying something out of turn…, but it’s on the internet that these people have used hypnosis, so I think you wouldn’t have had these quite high profile people being quite so open about these personal experiences a while back. And I sort of find that people who come to me for help with IBS have often been through many investigations in order to get their diagnosis. And they’ve been through many treatments in an attempt to get some relief from what can be an incredibly debilitating, embarrassing and painful symptoms. NHS patients thought what on earth is this — some of them — and they wouldn’t have sought out a hypnotherapist themselves. They wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to see a hypnotherapist, but given an option to see me for free on the NHS, they took it, and even they had amazing results. So I’m not sure that with a lack of an agreed upon definition that anyone truly knows what hypnotherapy or what hypnosis is, but I ask people to look at it for what it is for them. To me, it’s more of a method — hypnotherapy and hypnosis is more of a method to achieving something. It’s a carrier to something that’s much more important than how you do it. But if hypnotherapy helps it to become a lasting change, it’s much better. If I find that in my first session with IBS clients, I undertake a detailed assessment of their symptoms and problems. I ask them what they want to get out of their time with me, but I provide a sample trance where I induce hypnosis and get the client to exhibit some hypnotic phenomenon that can prove to them and convince them that hypnosis has taken place because I don’t want them fretting that they’re not in hypnosis or they’re doing it wrong somehow. It can be distracting from the objective of their symptoms reduction. They’re focusing more on, “What’s hypnosis? Am I being hypnotised or not,” rather than “I want to feel better.” So I establish their expectations of therapy. I work with their beliefs, and also, in that first session, set up an anchor which allows them to recapture wonderful feelings I get them to have in trance in the waking state — in the real world — when they’re facing these challenges. And in further sessions, I work with whatever they bring to me that they want to deal with — which can be absolutely anything at all — and I often have to think on my feet.

LARAH: Alright. Thank you, Helen. I was just thinking, does meditation have anything to do with hypnotherapy? I know there’s not the therapy part as such, but they say if you do some meditation by yourself, has that got anything to do with it at all?

HELEN: I think, certainly, yeah. A lot of these therapies — or even things that these people do for themselves — I think there’s a connection between all of them. So you can do them, as you say, yourself. Meditation alone — it’s that relaxation. It’s that focusing, and again, zoning in to certain focuses and zoning out from others. Changing your focus and awareness and guided meditation, you can find that’s very hypnotic. I don’t know if you’ve done guided meditation in groups where people are full on in trance, but  haven’t intended it. It’s just the way that people have responded to it so well. So, absolutely. Anything that allows you to just take a break from the busyness of your mind and busyness of the body, I think, has some hypnotic type, and things do exhibit to you in hypnotic uses.  

LARAH: I was also wondering, do people fall asleep during the session, and if they do, does it still work?

HELEN: Now that’s a biggie there, that one. I’ve had a lot of people say, “It didn’t happen to me, I wasn’t hypnotised.” With colleagues and peer support, there’s issues where they say, “My client kept saying they weren’t hypnotised. I believe they were. They raised their arms in the air and they randomly, when I told them to, they did everything I said, and yet, when they came out of hypnosis, they said they weren’t in it.” You can talk until you’re blue in the face to try to convince somebody that has to be convinced in the trance, and I always say, “Well, it doesn’t matter.” If you were asleep or awake, I don’t care because I’m not talking to the conscious mind. In other words, if you want to convince somebody to quit smoking, you’ve got to get on with it then. There’s something deeper than the conscious wish that’s keeping them maintaining smoking. It’s your unconscious part where the programming is. That’s the part you access in hypnosis. That’s why you wake up if there’s a sudden noise in your house or a dog barking because that’s the part of you that’s always listening. You’re not not asleep, but your listening out to it. When you hear someone say your name and you know you get $20,000 every time someone says it, suddenly you’re going to be listening for your name left, right and centre. It’s that kind of focus you get. It’s an amazing thing that we can do to ourselves.

LARAH: Yes, that’s right. The other thing you said that was interesting is that some people have the perception — I’ve seen it written in articles — that you can convince people to do what they don’t want to do during hypnotherapy in a hypnotic state. That is totally not right, is it?

HELEN:  I think you can be manipulated, and that is where the danger is when certain people, or unpleasant people, are trying to groom someone. They do that by not telling them what they’re up to so that  power of suggestion works with hypnosis with or without it. You can get someone to do something that they wouldn’t normally do like saying the right things. If you say, “Go and kill that person over there,” most people would say, “No, I’m not going to.” If you convince them that the person they love is behind that person and that person is about to kill them or hurt them, it changes everything. And someone who normally wouldn’t have done something dangerous in their lives, suddenly, honestly believes that this person in front of them is going to hurt their wife, their child, their somebody,  and the response is totally different.

LARAH: Ah, right. That’s very interesting because I didn’t think about that aspect. I just thought, “Ah, this is crazy. You can’t do that.”

HELEN:  You shouldn’t do it, but it’s entirely possible — otherwise there wouldn’t be bad people out there being successful. You’d be able to reject that kind of suggestion.

LARAH: Yeah, yeah, all right. That’s interesting. You’ll want to watch out for strangers out there wanting to hypnotise you.

So now, you just touched on IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so what is the exact connection between hypnotherapy and IBS?

HELEN:  Well, there’s a chap called Peter Whorwell who got a professorship out of working with IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and he’s been writing and researching on this since the early 1980’s. And he and his team have provided much of the evidence base that allowed my job to be created on the NHS which came from the NICE guidelines, which recommended this as an evidence-based and cost effective treatment. So for NICE in the UK to recommend something anything it has to be England based.. For them to recommend anything, it has to work and be proven to work scientifically and to be cost effective. If it really works and it’s fantastic, but it’s expensive, they won’t recommend it. So for NICE to recommend it is pretty good. He coined the phrase — this Whorwell chap — ‘gut-directed hypnotherapy’, and he devised a method of imagery that directly correlated to the bowel and its symptoms. He and his team have written a bunch about the gut-brain axis, and most of us are aware of this particular connection between our mind and our guts when things are difficult in life. Most of us have experienced some of either butterflies, nausea, pain and diarrhoea as an emotional response to a stressor like an exam period or a difficult bereavement or something. These emotional responses are exhibited by our digestive system.

LARAH: Alright. Well thank you for this explanation. And now, if you can go into a little more detail, how can hypnotherapy help IBS sufferers? How successful is it to reduce symptoms, and how does it work in general?

HELEN: Okay. I will try to answer that. The mind is an amazing machine and we can imagine things that aren’t there, and we can imagine things that are. Such as things that aren’t there we can see threatening shapes and shadows and believe somebody’s after us if they’re not there at all. And we can miss our car keys — usually when we’re late for the kids — and they’re right there in front of us. That’s know as a negative hallucination so you don’t see something that is there. When people are pushed to their limits, the human mind and body are designed for survival, and they do this particularly well.

I don’t know how many people know about free divers, but they absolutely have my total respect because they do something that seems utterly impossible. They dive down into the sea on a single breath for many minutes. The world’s record for last year was four minutes and twenty four seconds on one breath, and I find that utterly mind blowing.  

LARAH: Amazing.

HELEN: So using that same thing of hypnosis, the power, people train themselves to lower their heart rate so they can create these miniscule pieces of art on top of a pinhead. Soldiers who are injured in enemy territory, and they need to remain quiet so they don’t get hunted down and killed — all of this is a form of trance state which overrides what is, or seems to be, a natural response to a particular stimulus, or obnoxious stimulus. So this hypnotherapy uses suggestion to access this amazing resourceful state for the client — uses this resourceful state to equip the client with tools and the skills they need. And sometimes, you can talk all you’d like, but you’re never going to convince someone to something that they hold onto as an idea that is fact or is fiction. They actually have to experience it for themselves. So if a client thinks he can absolutely not relax, or can’t relax, I go ahead and prove to them that they can relax. For those who feel under confident, I give them the gift of self confidence. Making that one simple change, even if it only lasts for the length of the trance, allows the client to realise they’re not stuck after all and they can change their responses to challenges. In the case of pain, you can either turn it down or turn it off if it suits you to do so. Some clients of mine take the literal approach of literally turning a dial down which corresponds to pain or anxiety or another symptom. Others like a more metaphorical approach which is more like Whorwell’s gut ripper. He says that the bowel is the gut, and the ripper and you can slow down or speed up or reduce the turbulence of the flow. I provide a variety of those methods in my therapy as what a person thinks they will respond to kind of naturally, say in the waking state can be different from what you were like in a trance state. It’s different to the way that their unconscious mind processes these things. Obviously, unconscious programming that we need to address as I’ve said before, and genuine effectiveness, in many cases it’s as effective as a patient wants it to be. I’ve even had several patients say to me they no longer have IBS despite it being documented to be a lifelong disorder. And there are others who continue to use my techniques and to listen to the CDs and MP3s that I give them, and that keeps their symptoms under control.

So talking about the figures or effectiveness, my personal one for symptom reduction is 97% of the patients I saw in the NHS. And as it was funded from the public purse, I had to justify that I was indeed making improvements rather than justing hoping they were all thinking that people might just say something nice about me. So I used a plethora of various validated data questionnaires to work out patient’s scores before treatment, at midpoint, and on discharge. I wrote these figures up in a couple of papers, one of which was BMJ, a British Medical Journal. A particular article called Frontline Gastroenterology. I’m not going to go into the details of those here, but if anybody wants to know more, obviously you’re welcome to make contact with me about it.  

LARAH: That’s all very interesting. The work you did for the NHS. So that section, that’s not happening anymore, is it?

HELEN: Very sadly, they closed that service down when there was a big reshuffle as they do every so often in the NHS. And they changed the organisations from primary care trusts into clinical commissioning groups. And the focus is all on saving money and if you couldn’t save money upfront, however good your service was, it was going to get cut, and that is what happened to my service. I could have saved more than a hundred thousand pounds a year on just me working, but they’re saying that in order to make it fair for everybody to have access, they’d have had to employ another twelve hypnotherapists. Then, obviously, the costs would go further up. Each one of those, by themselves, would have been able to save money, but they didn’t have the upfront capital to pay for the extra twelve staff, so they shut the one person down rather than employ the extra twelve.

LARAH: That’s a real shame. So if anyone in England wants to have a hypnotherapy session to help with IBS, now they will just have to do that privately.

HELEN:  There’s a few services in tiny bits and niches in some hospitals around, and Whorwell’s research still goes ahead, but even they’ve experienced some funding cuts to what they do. There’s a few people around that do a few hours a week, some more hours, but it’s not what it would ideally be which is every unit would have someone there in the community or the hospital to say to the people who suffer because the guidelines are about intractable IBS. To the people who suffer the most who haven’t responded to other forms of medical therapy or the usual medications. So these aren’t the people who cope and have a bit of a problem but carry on. This is the real sufferers which, obviously, the position was to close the service down because even with one person, I was making a difference and these people were left with no other service.  

LARAH: That’s a real shame. Unfortunately, yes, I guess that’s what happens in every country. Where they can cut the budget, they do, even though you could really help a lot of people and possibly in a better way than just medication. And were your patients using anything else — let’s say a change of diet like the low FODMAP diet or IBS diet, or were they just doing hypnotherapy?

HELEN: Well, some of the people who came to see me had been through the dietitian, and some of them would have done the low FODMAP diet and some of them would have done the standard thing, that you still can’t believe people are saying: increased fibre. And they weren’t talking about soluble fibre, it was insoluble fibre. And again, you’re gonna have a few more things that’s going to make your stomach blow up to the size of a balloon. And that’s what was being recommended to have; all of the things that we would now suggest that were a bad idea, they were still being recommended to do despite the evidence to suggest otherwise. So even in this day and age, the people weren’t being directed to the right sort of self help. And they say, if you can resolve it with a diet, then wouldn’t that be fantastic? If you could resolve it with a low FODMAP diet through a dietitian, again, even better, but people weren’t being directed to the right places either. The people who went through a gastroenterologist absolutely had everything done the right way for them, but I just find that because it’s such difficult, and the medical term is kind of heart sink, where I think “This is someone I’m not going to be able to help very well. This is very difficult.” Then it’s almost like people shut down and don’t want to help as much, because they know this guy is likely to have more problems and more problems, and obviously, take up lots of resources and lots of time. And also, as a patient, it’s a very embarrassing condition to go and have to say, “Excuse me. I have this problem and I want you to help me with it,” which again, is another way the commissioner got away with closing down the service so easily, is because the patient group is quite a vulnerable one, and talking about bowel problems isn’t something we Brits do very well.

LARAH:  Yes, people wouldn’t just speak up about it and say, “No, we really need this service because we have this issue.” They would rather keep it quiet. And that’s the reality of it, really.

HELEN:  Yeah, absolutely.

LARAH: Alright. Well thank you for that. In terms of how many sessions of hypnotherapy would an IBS sufferer need to see some results, what’s the average? What’s the usual?

HELEN: Well I find this is a very personal number. So back to the NHS service that I had, I insisted — I put my foot down and stumped a bit — that the patients were funded for ten sessions. Not everybody needed or wanted ten, but I wanted to have the opportunity to give them ten because in the NHS, if you say you need two, they’ll want you to use one. If you say you want ten, they’ll want you to have fewer. So rather than say this particular person needs more sessions and they’ll say, ”No you can’t. That’s not the agreed number,” I wanted to have a good number to start with, and then if people tell me they needed less, that would be okay. So that was a ten session thing with the NHS because I wanted the best opportunity to be able to help them. And they’re not just for problems with IBS.

The geographical area I covered was one of the most socioeconomically deprived areas of the UK. I think it may have been number two and number four out of ten — not in the top ten. So it was quite high up in the suffering, bless them and I wanted to do everything I could to maximise my opportunity to be able to help them. I also found that some of these patients had particularly difficult times in life with their problems — they’d do well in therapy and we’d really make some break-through. They would go home and life would be a bit rubbish for them so they’d experience an awful event, and then they’d have what they termed a relapse. Then, obviously, the symptoms came back or became really bad, and having more sessions allowed these roller coaster through their lives to happen, or to be dealt with, so they’d go out often having faced a problem and use their experiences and use their things or tweak something in therapy and not fix them particularly, but give them skills to be able to help themselves. My aim was for long-term coping, not just short-term and showing off “look I fixed you for half an hour, isn’t that marvellous of me?” These commissioners wanted to give the patients a maximum of six sessions to reduce the costs, even when I was going at the time, and yet the Whorwell’s research was based on twelve.

And I enjoyed helping people with other problems in their lives. When they were happy with how their IBS was doing, then I could help them with dental phobia or fear of flying today instead. And, yes indeed, I did all that! So compare that to private practice. I let the client decide how many sessions they want or how many they feel they need whilst definitely trying not to build a dependence — trying to build their independence rather than their dependence on me or my therapy. I think, privately, four is a good number to be able to make change for them to go and experience life’s challenges to see how they respond, how they can cope better, tweak anything that needs tweaking, or just reaffirm how well they’ve done, and hopefully everything is really going well for them. But, as I said, I let the client decide, and some people have said to me that they’re completely sorted after one appointment. Who am I to disagree with that?

LARAH: Yeah, that’s amazing. That would be fantastic after one, but even a handful of sessions — or six or seven sessions — and know that you’re actually making an improvement. I think that even if the NHS doesn’t cover that anymore, I thinks it’s still worth considering, definitely.

Helen Hypno awardsSo your patients, are they people that have officially been diagnosed with IBS? Or do they come to you and they have digestive issues and say, “I heard you can help with those?” How does it work?

HELEN: Well, it’s a little bit of both. In the world of the internet and Dr. Google, knowing people that are dying of all sorts of dodgy illnesses, that they might just have a common cold or something, so you just have to be a bit careful. But people that come to see me with a diagnosis — they’ve had it for years medically, or they think these are similar symptoms and I’m going to call myself as having IBS and I’m going to get some help. I do a thorough assessment and check through what we call ‘red flags’ that the NICE says; which is the bleeding, any strong family history of cancer, unintentional weight loss and that sort of thing. Those are red flags that may not be IBS and something else is going on here. Anything that doesn’t fit IBS, I would strongly encourage them to seek medical advice. I will explain why and what I think may be the issue. So no secrets, but certainly please do get going and see your doctor about this. Regardless, I can help them with symptom reduction, but in the presence of organic disease which needs treatments — say something like Coeliac Disease which there’s not point in dealing with hypnotically; you just need to avoid the gluten. It would be inappropriate not to strongly advise that patient seek medical assistance for those symptoms. I explain what my concerns are, what the doctor should be looking for in my opinion, and I usually give them a little copy of the NICE guidelines for information for them and the doctor, so they don’t just think some random woman is telling them to do something, and the doctor then refuses and the patient then gets in trouble. But I’ll always work with medical colleagues and encourage my patients to do so as well.

LARAH: That’s excellent. That’s excellent work that you do. I was also reading an article that some gastroenterologists are now starting to support hypnotherapy as an effective treatment for IBS. Personally, I think this is fantastic. We’re really moving forward with different types of solutions for IBS. What do you think? Does it seem to you that we’re making a little bit more progress in this space? And are doctors trying to find other ways apart from pharmaceutical products to ease symptoms of their patients?

HELEN: In the NHS role, we had amazing support from the gastroenterologists, particularly. They were my biggest referrers. Probably two thirds of my patients came from the gastroenterologist guys at the hospital, and then along with some great GPs and family doctors as well. I think it helps that Whorwell is a gastroenterologist, so you’ve got somebody highly respected in the medical profession saying this is the right approach for certain people, in these circumstances. And as there are a few IBS specific medications, even finding most of the medications available for IBS are rebranded from being generic medications to ‘This is something for IBS’ — some great marketing there — and they work for a variety of causes for bowel symptoms. So Loperamide is a standard anti-diarrhoea. It’s not IBS medication, but you will find it packaged as an anti-IBS medication. Many of my patients who saw me said they simply don’t  work for them. And medicating IBS is doing a little to reduce the number of doctor visits which they base on the GP and the gastroenterologist. It doesn’t reduce the patient’s suffering because they find the medications weren’t working. Obviously for people that did not came to see me, they may or may not have had different experience, but I can only speak for the people that did come to see me. I think people are realising that IBS walks a fine line between the physical symptoms with no disease process and the mental ability to cope with physical stresses, like we said the very real things people are doing — those free-divers, these soldiers. There’s nothing imagined here; it’s just a different origin of the issue. We found that IBS patients are called high somatisers, so they experience their mental distress physically in their bodies. And the more evidence there is that psychological interventions work, the more they should be used to help patients. And many patients will tell you that their experience with IBS is directly affected by their anxiety state or how they’re feeling generally. And I think that it’s time we listen to them and we treat it appropriately.

LARAH: Yes, thank you. And it’s very encouraging that there is something happening in this space compared to a few years ago. Are there a lot more hypnotherapists that help IBS sufferers the same as what you do in the UK and in other parts of the world?

HELEN: Well, there’s a growing number, I think. My training program has reached Australia and Qatar to name a couple of countries, that are not local to me. So, as with most things, there are always people that have their own idea of how something can be done, so there are a few different courses out there. I think most of them do incorporate some element of Whorwell’s gut-directed hypnotherapy. I know my approach works because it was created for people who had no vested interest in it working for them. So my NHS patients received it for free. They got no payment to turn up and there was no punishment if they didn’t turn up. If the people I saw who were out of work and they were taking benefits and they got better, they would have to stop the benefits and go back to work. The jobs these people were likely to get after being off work for such a long time, were probably not going to be well paid. So there were a whole bunch of reasons that we would call a secondary gain, why they could have it not working and would choose to hold on to their problem. And yet, for many, there were more reasons for it not to work for them, and yet, most of my patients, you could see from the result got fantastic outcomes. So during the four year period, I was referred three hundred people, and my course was written around these real people with very real challenges in their lives. As I’ve continued in practice despite the end of the NHS practice and service, I’ve tweaked it and added bits, but, generally, the essence overall is the same thing. They are things I’ve learned from those NHS people. And the feedback I’ve received from the practitioners who’ve taken my course in the various different countries, is that my methods are appropriate for and they do help sufferers of IBS absolutely everywhere which I think is quite good to know.   

LARAH: Okay. So the course that you were mentioning — is that the training program that you offer for other hypnotherapists?   

HELEN: There’s a two-pronged approach. It’s my imaginative Bremner solutions for IBS known as IBS4IBS. So I devised that in response to many requests I get for how I get hired up, how I do what I do, and based on my work with NHS patients. So I’ve created a correspondence course. And in person, weekend training and also as a program for patients to help themselves so they can have mp3 and eBook for people to look after themselves at home as clients or patients. When I had my in-person thing, I had a guest speaker who’s a consultant gastroenterologist just at the medical side and, obviously, in person staff so people could ask more questions. But, then, the correspondence side allows people to study at their own pace whenever and wherever they wish. So part of the course that I do for therapists is I provide ten scripts, one for of each of the ten sessions, and then encourage the therapist to adapt that and to incorporate their specific clients into. And I teach a bit of anatomy and physiology, the diagnostic criteria for IBS and what it is and what it isn’t, medical treatments for IBS and how to explain all of these to the clients and give them my tried and tested recordings which I give to clients, either as mp3s or CDs. And when I provide my courses, the only one I know of which offers every learner three months of mentorship support after their course. So they can receive expert support after they have their first IBS clients. instead of having just done a quick weekend course and off they go and no one helps them. I wouldn’t want that to do that to anybody. It certainly doesn’t do the client any good. So, for the mentorship, I’ve had great feedback, especially because the value of the mentorship exceeds the cost of the course itself. So I encourage my learners to ask about approaches or issues with real clients — or potential issues that they see might come up so that their clients get the best possible experience. And particularly, if people are advertising that they’re using the IBS4IBS approach, it’s my name on the door and I want to make sure that anything that goes out in my name is a good value and helps people properly. I also include an option to make a meaningful assessment of learning and declaration of competence and give them approved practitioner status. If they want to, they can be included on my list of practitioners in the register.

LARAH: Okay, that’s a brilliant service and it sounds like a great useful training program that you have. So for any hypnotherapists out there, who are thinking of going into this new field of helping IBS sufferers — while not new, but maybe there are still not that many people offering this service… So how can they get in touch with you to find out more?

HELEN: Well, I’m based in North Worcestershire in England, and also, if it’s one-to-one stuff, I’ll do some training, or in the correspondence course, do a bit of Skype stuff as well. But it’s quite new, relatively speaking, but it’s quite popular with many clients and therapists to do Skype therapy. So, yeah, I’m findable online. There’s a little IBShypnotherapycours.webs.com is my main one. I’m find-able on Facebook as Helen Bremner, and my second name there is IBS.Hypnotherapy. It’s pretty easy to Google and find out.

LARAH: In terms of hypnotherapy, could they do the course online even if they come from a different part of the world? You’d be able to assist them via a skype session? Is that right?

HELEN:  Yes. A skype session or email. I find that the mentorship is quite useful by email because I can go through details, and we don’t have to worry about the time zone thing, if it’s an email.

LARAH: Absolutely. And for people suffering from IBS, if they want to come see you, is it a one-to-one session?

HELEN:  Well, I do one-to-one. I’ve got a little practice in North Worcestershire. I’ll do some home visits for people who request a more familiar environment for them. I’ve had a few people who’ve been claustrophobic and helped them with agoraphobia as well. I’ve had them say, “I’ve been in the house and pretty much stuck in this room,” — so claustrophobic in this room — “but I’m agoraphobic about leaving my home,” which is kind of a really interesting to deal with to start with. Personally, I prefer one-to-one work so I can address what the specific client wants, and I feel that individual work gets the best results. Sometimes, if you’re talking about group therapy, the client wants to reveal something private and personal and particular to them, and they may feel inhibited by the presence of others, so they don’t share that. That lack of sharing, then, inhibits their development and their healing because they haven’t shared something that’s really important to them. Sometimes, in a group situation, other people can be distracted by someone else sharing their private information. It might be an overshare as far as they’re concerned. Or they might say, “Yes, that’s true for me,” or “I’m actually back in black, dark space” which actually they would have been climbing out of it. I think it’s useful for people who have IBS to have a bit of ‘me’ time. So many of my patients and clients have been kind of self-deprecating, and it’s wonderful to see what a bit of focus therapy can do for their self-esteem and self-worth to know that they’re worth, for an hour or so, or an hour and a half, of their own time and of my time helping them, rather than sharing.

LARAH: Ah, yes. That’s very true. So, just try to get that time for yourself and invest in yourself and get help as well. So, that’s fantastic! If people want to get in touch with you, are you on social media? Your website address. Could you share those please?

HELEN: Yep! So I’m on Facebook as Helen Bremner (IBS Hypnotherapy). There’s @IBShypnotherapist on Twitter, I also answer to emails. And IBS.hypnotherapycourse.webs.com for the course and the IBS website.

LARAH:  Great and thank you so much, Helen, for your time. It’s now 9:30 at night your time…

HELEN:  Yes, it its.

LARAH:  So you’re getting ready to go to bed. For me, it’s 8:30 in the morning and I have another podcast to record in a couple of hours. But this has been absolutely fantastic. It’s just another option for people suffering from IBS symptoms to look at. If only they just informed themselves and reach out to you if they can. Or, hopefully, they can find someone else in their area that can help them.

As I said, I’ve used hypnotherapy before — not for IBS. I’ve used it for other things, so I think it totally works. So I’d just say try it! What have you got to lose?

HELEN: A lot of people think that it’s one thing or another. It’s almost like a religion. It’s low FODMAP, or it’s hypnotherapy, or it’s medicine, or it’s this. Why not a bit of everything and make things work for you? Some things won’t and sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t. We shouldn’t be shoe holing people into this, “Oh, this is your only choice. If you do this then you can’t go back. There’s no going back if you choose this option.” It’s not. Literally, people should be able to pick and choose a little bit and have a bit of dedication to themselves. I think we do ourselves a lot of disservice by actually going, “This is my thing and I’m not going to be pressured about my thing. I’m being pressured by the dietitian and pressured by somebody else.” The patients have no idea who to turn to and no idea who to trust because someone keeps running around with their own agenda  

LARAH: Are some of the symptoms due to anxiety and stress. While the diet may not do it and the other things that you need to consider… so hypnotherapy could definitely help for that. I use — virtually on a daily basis — meditation. So I meditate a lot to help me with the stress. Hypnotherapy will be great in helping with stress and helping with anxiety.

HELEN: It’s good fun, huh? I think someone must look after us, eh?

LARAH: Yes, it’s a lovely time, really. I totally love the sensation of being under hypnotherapy. It was really beautiful.

HELEN:  Good stuff!  

LARAH: Alright. Well thank you so much, Helen. I very much appreciate your time. I know you’re very busy and you’ve just come back from having a flu?

HELEN:  Yeah, no, they said it was pneumonia. They wanted to put me in the hospital, but I said, “I can’t. I’ve got two small children at home.” The antibiotics kicked in and I’m finally starting to feel a bit more like me,even though my voice is a bit deeper than it normally is.

LARAH: It’s a beautiful voice for hypnotherapy as well.

HELEN:  Thank you very much.

LARAH:  Yeah, thank you so much, Helen. Thank you for your time. That was very informative.

HELEN: Thank you for your interest. Lovely to talk to you. Take care. Bye bye  

LARAH: I really had a lot of fun interviewing my lovely guest Helen Bremner and have learned a lot. I hope you also have enjoyed this episode and learned a few things about hypnotherapy and how that can also help to improve IBS symptoms. If you would like to get in touch with Helen or understand more about what she does, please pop in on my website and look for episode twenty nine where you will find all the links.  Until next time I wish you all the best with your health and your IBS. Take good care and goodbye!

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

About Larah

I have been suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome for many years, but it took a longtime to get a diagnosis, since then I have been following a low FODMAP diet, which has changed my life for the better. This is my story and experience with IBS and the low FODMAP diet.