How Psychological Support Can Help GI Patients

If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease or another gastrointestinal (GI) condition, your stress, mental health, thoughts and behaviors can have a significant impact on your digestive symptoms and daily life.

The Mind-Gut Connection for People with Digestive Diseases

At the University of Chicago Medicine, we believe that understanding this “mind-gut connection” is an important part of managing your digestive health. We are among a select group of centers in the United States offering specialized expertise and resources in GI psychology.

If you are coping with a digestive disease or condition, our experts can provide individually tailored strategies to help improve your symptoms and quality of life in just a few sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Mind-Gut Connection

What does a GI psychologist do?

GI psychologists are specially trained to work with patients who have a range of problems including IBD, IBS, heartburn and other conditions. They have doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and have completed specialized training in GI psychology (also known as psychogastroenterology).

GI psychologists are specially trained in helping patients manage GI-specific anxiety and coping behaviors, which may be enough for many GI patients. However, if patients need additional treatment for concerns like ongoing or severe depression and anxiety, substance use or eating disorders, your gastroenterologist or a GI psychologist can make referrals and recommendations for the kind of care that will best address your needs.

How can GI therapy help GI symptoms?

GI psychologists typically use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help you understand how your thoughts and behaviors affect how you feel physically and emotionally. A GI psychologist also can help you enhance and change your thinking patterns and coping behaviors to reduce your stress and your GI symptoms. These tools are personalized to your particular goals and needs.

A GI psychologist also can teach you specific techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation to help you improve your body’s relaxation response, which can help reduce symptoms like pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation and other common GI complaints. One of these techniques is gut-directed hypnotherapy, which has been shown to reduce symptoms in many people with IBS and other GI disorders.

How many sessions with a GI psychologist do I need?

It’s not uncommon for people to realize significant symptom relief after just six to eight sessions with a GI psychologist. Some people may feel better and cope better with their symptoms after just two or three sessions.

During your first meeting, the GI psychologist will take time to get to know you and learn more about your GI condition. You will be able to share what has worked (and what hasn’t) to manage your symptoms. From there, the GI psychologist will help you develop a personalized plan to reach your goals. Your goals may include having fewer symptoms, feeling less isolated or anxious and having a greater sense of control over your life.

Alyse Bedell, PhD

Alyse Bedell, PhD

Dr. Alyse Bedell is a GI psychologist who is specially trained to help patients develop coping behaviors for GI-related stress and anxiety.

See Dr. Bedell's profile