There is a brain in your bowel.

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Did you know that the gut is the only organ that contains an intrinsic nervous system that is able to mediate reflexes in complete absence of input from the brain or spinal cord? It’s called our enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system allows the gut to function on its own most of the time. It’s like having a brain in your bowel!

Every class of neurotransmitter found in the brain is present in the enteric nervous system. Neurotransmitters are the words cells use for communicating with one another and with the cells under their control. The multiplicity of neurotransmitters in the bowel suggests that the language spoken by the cells of the enteric nervous system is as rich and complex as that of the brain.

There is a communication line between the brain and the enteric nervous system called the gut-brain axis. Messages are continually being sent from the gut to the brain and from the brain to the gut. Problems with the smooth flow of information up and down this communication line is thought to play a role in IBS.

Studies suggest that the perception of gut stimuli via the gut-brain axis can be modulated by psychological treatments such as gut directed hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

During a gut directed hypnotherapy program suggestions and metaphors are used with the aim of resolving any issues with the gut-brain axis so that full and proper communication is restored. For example, I might suggest to a client that they are in the operations room in their gut, standing in front of a switchboard, like they used to use to manually connect phone calls. Some of the cables have fallen out of the sockets in the switchboard and need to be reinserted. I’ll ask the client to imagine they are putting all the cables back in their correct locations on the board and then have them test that all is working by making a test call. I’ll also get them to check that all the lights on the switchboard are green signifying communication has been fully restored.

This is just one of a variety of metaphors I use with my IBS clients. The wonderful thing about metaphors is that they are the language of the non-conscious mind which processes using images and symbols. So with the help of metaphors, we can communicate with the head brain and the gut brain.

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