Does psychological counseling alter the natural history of inflammatory bowel disease?

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2010 Apr;16(4):664-9. doi: 10.1002/ibd.21098.


Background: There is increasing evidence that psychological stress can increase mucosal inflammation and worsen the course of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We have now assessed whether psychotherapy by a counselor specially trained in the management of IBD can influence the course of disease.

Methods: Using retrospective case note review, we compared the course of IBD in 24 patients (13 ulcerative colitis; 11 Crohn's disease), during the year before (year 1) and the year after referral (year 2) for supportive outpatient psychotherapy to an IBD counselor, to that of 24 IBD controls who were matched to individual cases for age, sex, disease, duration of disease, medication at baseline, and for relapse rate in year 1. Counselor assessments were made using a visual analog scale 0-6 (0 denotes poor, 6 excellent response to counseling). The results are shown as median (range).

Results: Patients were referred for counseling because of disease-related stress (14 patients), work problems (3), concerns about surgery (5), and bereavement (2); they received 6 (1-13) 1-hour sessions in year 2. In the year after starting counseling (year 2), patients had fewer relapses (0 [0-2]) and outpatient attendances (3.5 [1-10]) than in the year before referral (year 1) (2 [0-5], P = 0.0008; and 6.5 [1-17], P = 0.0006, respectively; furthermore, steroid usage (1 course [0-4] before, 0 [0-2] after, P = 0.005) and relapse-related use of other IBD medications declined during psychotherapy (1 drug [0-5] before, 0 [0-2] after, P = 0.002). There were no differences in any of these measures between years 1 and 2 in the control group. Numbers of hospital admissions did not change between year 1 and 2 in either group. In the 20 patients who attended >1 session counseling helped solve stress-related difficulties (counselor's score 4 [3-5]), the counselor scored them 4 (3-6) overall in psychological well-being after the counseling sessions.

Conclusions: IBD-focused counseling may improve not only psychological well-being, but also the course of IBD in individuals with psychosocial stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / psychology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / therapy*
  • Counseling*
  • Crohn Disease / psychology
  • Crohn Disease / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult