Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a painful and sometime debilitating condition that affects roughly one adult in 10. Previous studies have found that, on average, psychotherapy is just as effective as medications in reducing the severity of symptoms of this gastrointestinal disorder.
Although experts initially believed the type of psychotherapy used for the condition did not matter, a new study suggests one particular type of therapy is the most effect.
Specifically, psychologists at Vanderbilt University reviewed different types of psychotherapy to determine which is best at improving the ability of IBS patients to participate in daily activities. They found that one form — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — was the best at enhancing a person’s ability to perform normal activities.
“Evaluating daily function is important because it distinguishes between someone who experiences physical symptoms but can fully engage in work, school, and social activities and someone who cannot,” said Kelsey Laird, a doctoral student in Vanderbilt’s clinical psychology program.
Laird is the first author of the study which appears online in the journal Clinical Psychology Review.
Co-authors are Emily Tanner-Smith, Ph.D., a research associate and Professors Lynn S. Walker, Alexandra C. Russell, and Steven Hollon.
The authors analyzed 31 studies, which provided data for over 1,700 individuals who were randomly assigned to receive either psychotherapy or a control condition such as support groups, education, or wait-lists.
Overall, those who received psychotherapy showed greater gains in daily functioning compared to those assigned to a control condition.
However, individuals assigned to receive cognitive behavior therapy or CBT experienced larger improvements than those who received other types of therapy.
Researchers note that CBT is an umbrella term for a number of different therapies, each of which is based on the idea that thoughts, feelings, physiology, and behavior are interrelated.
Treatments are designed to help people develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving with the goal of reducing psychological distress and physiological arousal.
The authors speculate that the greater improvement observed in patients who received CBT may be due to the fact that treatments often incorporate “exposure:” a technique in which individuals gradually expose themselves to uncomfortable situations.
For someone with IBS, this could include long road trips, eating out at restaurants, and going places where bathrooms are not readily accessible.
“Encouraging individuals to gradually confront such situations may increase their ability to participate in a wider range of activities,” said Laird.
“But more research is needed before we can say why CBT appears more effective for improving functioning in IBS compared to other therapy types.”
Source: Vanderbilt University