Irritable Bowel Syndrome Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Written by: Shruthi Chacko – M.Sc (Psychology)

Last updated date : March 06, 2023

Do you always need to use the bathroom when you are at a party? Do you find it hard to eat the things you like? Are you feeling embarrassed when you always need to go to the bathroom in a social setting? Are long flights hard to deal with? These situations can very common for people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. These can be very stressful situations to deal with. The food at the flight or the party can cause flare-ups such as diarrhoea or gas. In fact, just anticipating these symptoms causes stress and anxiety. This stress makes the IBS symptoms worse than before. But, don’t worry, there are ways in which you can start feeling better. Did you know cbt is helpful for IBS? Read this article if you want to know how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help with your Irritable Bowel Syndrome.


Chapter 1:

What Is CBT?

CBT is a therapy approach that focuses to set goals and finding solutions to concerns. It helps to change unhelpful or harmful patterns of thoughts and behaviour. It aims to change them to more helpful patterns of thought and behaviour. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Also, it can reduce many physical symptoms such as reduction in stress, inflammation and having better-coping skills. Hence, CBT helps people to better manage their physical response to anxiety or stress. These are a few of the coping skills to work with:
  • Get rid of myths of IBS. It is important to get educated about how the mind and body are connected to each other and reasons why behavior therapy works.
  • You will learn about relaxation skills like deep breathing, this can have a soothing effect on your gut and help reduce the symptoms for some time. You can check out some apps online, for understanding and practising this skill.
  • During the therapy, you will be able to reduce the negative thinking patterns than makes your symptoms worse.

CBT also focuses on educating you about stress. In respect to IBS, the therapist might teach you how anxiety and stress have an effect on your symptoms and your gut. Therefore, they may tell you a few stress management skills and techniques that can help you manage your stressful situations in a much healthier way.

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Chapter 2:

Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Studies have shown that the symptoms of IBS tend to get worse when you get stressed. There is a strong connection between our mind and body. Once you learn how to manage your stress, you will soon see how your symptoms are also reduced. CBT helps people to change their unhelpful thinking patterns. In addition, CBT can help people learn different strategies that will help them to manage their Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. For example, the therapist may help you identify food triggers that can be avoided. The CBT therapist helps the clients to have a brand new eating, sleeping and daily schedule that helps their bodies to reduce the IBS symptoms.

Further, people having IBS often tend to avoid their symptoms in the initial stages. They find it difficult to go back to their daily lives even with dietary, medical and CBT interventions due to the continuous use of avoidance and the fear attached to it. In such a situation, CBT can help the person with exposure techniques to give them comfort to go about one’s daily activities.

Cognitive restructuring helps you to shift your attention, this can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of living. Let’s take an example of it. A person is having cramps or their IBS symptoms start flaring up at a party. The therapist will help you to shift your focus thinking about the symptoms. Trying to find a distraction, convincing that these symptoms will not stay forever, it will pass.

Chapter 3:

Does CBT Help Everyone with IBS?

CBT may not be helpful for everyone. It depends on your triggers and the root cause of your IBS. If you think anxiety or stress triggers your Irritable Bowel Syndrome, then you can probably consider going for cognitive behavioural therapy as it can help you. But, if you think your IBS is a result of an intestine infection or food poisoning, it is best you consider taking medical help as soon as possible. This can make the bacteria grow in your gut. As, this can lead to an even more serious condition, if untreated. Moreover, cognitive behavioural therapy cannot stop the bacteria growing in your gut. However, during this time, CBT can help you develop coping struggles that will help you deal with your IBS symptoms in a better way.

Hence, for treating IBS one should have an aim to take a holistic approach. This includes haven a healthy diet, using CBT, meditation, exercise and even physical therapy can help you.

Chapter 4:

Is CBT Effective for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Research findings have shown that CBT is very effective in treating IBS. It was especially shown to be effective for long term outcomes. It was found that brief psychotherapy and quick ” check-ins” have shown to be effective in the long run for clients to get better. These follow-ups or check-ins clients keep in check with how they are using the CBT skills. Hence, it just does not look at relieving the client from the symptoms temporarily. In fact, it aims to make the client equipped enough to deal with the IBS symptoms for the long run and gives them skills to cope ups with stressful situations. Hence, CBT can be quite effective to reduce the symptoms of IBS.

Chapter 5:

3 Tips to Reduce Stress When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Firstly, it is important that you are paying attention to your stress levels, as they can flare up the symptoms. These are three tips that can help you with your journey to recovery with IBS.


I am sure this is not the first time that you are hearing that exercise is good for your health. You might be thinking, Ohh! exercising means sweating and getting all dirty. But, hey, if it helps your health and your Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it’s probably worth the sweat right? You don’t need to do any sort of intense exercise. You could meditate, go for a walk, go cycling or do something fun like Zumba. When you exercise your body produces endorphins, which means you feel stop feeling stressed and can start feeling happier. Hence, when you are less stressed, your IBS symptoms will reduce.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress. When you start breathing deeply, it energises the parasympathetic system that helps you calm down. In fact, this reduces the sense of urgency and panic that you are experiencing. Hence, studies have shown that deep breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower the stress levels in an individual.


Food triggers can be different for every person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is important to watch out for foods that trigger your stomach. If you are not sure what are the foods causing these triggers in you. There are some ingredients that you should consider avoiding or at least reducing from your diet. Items such as the following:

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Fruits that are high in sugar (Fructose) such as Grapes, Berries, Kiwis, Bananas etc
  • Avoid cruciferous vegetables such as Cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage
  • Watch out for beans and legumes

Now, what can you include in your diet? Here are a few items that are good for you.

  • Fruits such as Apples, Mangoes, Pears, Watermelon, Plums
  • Vegetables such as Onions, Mushrooms, Lentils, Garlic, Asparagus
  • Sweeteners such as Honey, Mannitol are good for you.

Chapter 6:

Important Note

Are you wondering how you can find a mental health professional who practices CBT? Unfortunately, it is quite hard to find professionals specialising in GI associated anxiety. But, don’t worry, you can try looking for a professional who is specialised in Health psychology. They can help you manage your IBS symptoms and help you manage your stress levels.

At Espychonline we have a series of self-help courses including the”Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Course” that can help you deal with your IBS systems in a better way. Please visit our Courses page to find more about it. You may also find it informative to read up on ”Irritable Bowel Syndrome Specialist- Who Can Help! or “Best Irritable Bowel Syndrome Physical Exercise” to know more about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

"Quick online learning, thanks!" Susan

92 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount