Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with irritable bowel syndrome: current insights

Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2017 Jul 19;10:231-237. doi: 10.2147/PRBM.S120817. eCollection 2017.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal (GI) condition associated with significant health care utilization and quality-of-life impairment. Latest research indicates that the brain-gut axis plays a key role in the disorder, and the presence of psychological factors and central processing deficits contribute to symptom severity and disability. Psychological therapies as a whole have demonstrated good efficacy in reducing the severity of IBS symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been tested most rigorously in multiple randomized controlled trials and consistently demonstrates significant and durable effects on IBS symptoms and quality of life. Various protocols for treating IBS have been developed, and most recent advances in the field include exposure-based treatments to target symptom-specific anxiety as well as modified delivery methods, including internet-based treatment models. Despite the well-documented advantages of CBT for IBS, it has been poorly disseminated and few patients have access to this treatment. The primary barrier to dissemination is the limited number of therapists with adequate training in GI psychology to provide this evidence-based intervention. Future developments in the field need to focus on training opportunities to equip more therapists to competently provide CBT for this population. Further efforts to develop telemedicine platforms for delivering this intervention will also improve accessibility for patients.

Keywords: cognitive-behavioral therapy; functional gastrointestinal disorders; irritable bowel syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review