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an interview with michael mahoney

Michael Mahoney


Michael Mahoney is the UK's most respected expert on the use of clinical hypnotherapy with IBS patients. He is also the man behind the home hypnosis program the IBS Audio Program 100, which has helped a huge number of IBS sufferers.

Thanks for talking to us Michael! Can you tell us a bit about your background first of all?

In being invited to write about my work and background, I was not only flattered, but I wondered what readers would want to learn about me. I suspected they would wonder how on earth anyone would come about treating such a condition as irritable bowel syndrome in the first place.

Well, to be honest, I was asked to look into treating patients with the condition by the gastroenterologists in my medical center here in Cheshire, England, who had given up all hope of helping them. These doctors called their IBS patients their 'heart-sinks' because every treatment that could be done was done, but to little or no avail. So they came to me.

Did you know much about IBS at that stage?

I had to learn about IBS from scratch, and did so, not only through my professional studies but by interviewing patient after patient and learning about their fears, anxieties, horrible episodes of 'emergency' diarrhea, panic attacks for the loo, and public accidents of untold embarrassment. I learned about the heartache and frustration of a patient population that had little or no recourse for relief.

As a clinical hypnotherapist, I knew that other medical conditions could be treated through this modality, with results running the range of alleviation of a given condition to full recovery. But IBS was a new one, and I was determined to help these patients because their suffering was indeed affecting their quality of life.

What exactly is clinical hypnotherapy, and how does it work?

Some readers, perhaps unaware of the many studies over the past 20 years using clinical hypnotherapy as a medical treatment, may have visions of watches swinging and people clucking like chickens. Clinical hypnotherapy uses the person's own internal resources to bring about symptom reduction and a path towards healing.

As humans, we are in and out of this state throughout the day, as it is merely a common state of concentration similar to being very focused - for example, driving home on 'auto-pilot' as we sometimes do. Even while hypnotized, the patient, not the therapist, remains in full control.

Hypnotherapy induces a state of relaxation while the patient is awake, and allows helpful suggestions such as those aimed at controlling health problems to be directed into the subconscious mind. It is a natural, normal state, and I have been privileged to help people with many problems through this treatment method for nearly 20 years.

When did you begin to use your skills with IBS patients?

In 1991, I began working with referred IBS patients at no charge, since I was learning about them and their needs. I spent nearly two years researching IBS. I developed specific IBS hypnotherapy processes for the treatment, incorporating ongoing feedback from the patients while providing my own funding for research and development. When word got out that IBS patients were actually receiving successful treatment, I had people travel long distances to obtain therapy from me; some of them were coming 100 miles or more.

Many IBS patients were too sick to easily travel, however, and had a great fear of not being near the bathroom, or they were afraid of having a bowel accident on the way; for them, coming to see me posed a problem. Today, when people ask what kept me working on my IBS program, even when faced with strapped finances and professional peer review, I could only think of those first patients and their desperation. That will be remembered for the rest of my life.

Why were the patients so desperate for help?

Sadly, many (if not most) of the IBS sufferers I saw had to deal with doctors who did not recognize or fully appreciate the emotional impact of IBS - for IBS is far from a purely physical condition. Many readers will be all too familiar with the emotional toll IBS can take, including anxiety, weepiness, some depression, resignation, and disheartenment.

I well understood the frustration, fear, and pain that the IBS patient suffers. I also know first-hand the anger that can come from being dismissed by physicians who don't feel that IBS is a 'real' condition that causes real suffering, and who simply refuse to listen to those who offer new avenues of help.

Patients often reported that dismissal of their concerns served only to make both their emotional and physical symptoms even worse. IBS needs an empathetic approach. Just dealing with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is not enough; the individual has to learn to rebuild internal energy. After years of pain, and being told by various medical professionals that there is nothing that can be done, many sufferers feel emotionally drained.

Is it important to address the emotional as well as physical effects of IBS?

In the IBS Audio Program introduction I explain about our 'emotional pot of energy' and our 'emotional reserves' and how these have to be attended to, in addition to the physical aspects of the condition. Without the emotional will and strength to seek and persevere in finding a solution, recovery is often difficult.

This 'emotional energy' has to be recognized, replenished and managed. To move into recovery we have to work at feeling better, learn new ways of coping, and become familiar with the new positive feelings and thoughts. It is then that we are taking part in our healing.

I've also found many IBS patients have to deal not only with dismissive doctors, but with family members and those in their lives who more or less disregard their problem. They'll be accused of 'faking' it, or told to just 'quit obsessing about it', or given some similar off-hand cutting remark. I felt that this was another area to be addressed, so I created a recording called the 'IBS Companion' that speaks of the humiliations, fears, medical evaluation embarrassments and ordeals that an IBS patient must go through, and how the family can help the patient, rather than add to their distressing situation.

One of my patients, upon listening to this recording, told me that she cried, as it was the first time she felt validated as a real human being by someone who understood her condition and its impact on her world. IBS had cost her a good deal of her life, and the recording was the first time she felt real empathy.

How did you develop the IBS Audio Program 100?

By mid-1997, I incorporated all the new processes, information, and delivery methods I had learned for IBS hypnotherapy onto audio tapes, so patients who were housebound or far away would no longer have to travel. These recorded sessions are today known as the IBS Audio Program 100 and are recorded onto CDs.

My work using clinical hypnotherapy for IBS has now been entered into the Guild of Health Writers Awards/Foundation of Integrated Medicine, and is considered one of '80 excellent examples of integrated medicine in the United Kingdom.' As a member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology (PCSG), I was invited to speak about my work in London, at the annual scientific meeting of the society, to gastro-interested medical professionals from all over the UK. I'm also a member of the International Functional Brain-Gut Research Group, and founder of the UK Register of IBS Therapists.

In March of 2003, I had the honor of being given first place in the UK's Top Hypnotherapist listing, in the 'Top Brass' section of the Business pages of the Independent. This was not only a thrill, but brought me to the realization that my work had gained recognition because it dealt with an enormous patient population that was sorely overlooked and desperately needed help. This was not so much a validation for my work as it was a validation to the sufferers like yourselves.

Michael, thanks very much for your time.

Many thanks to those of you who have successfully used the IBS Audio Program 100 and have shared your kind words with others who are suffering so deeply with this frustrating condition. And may I also extend many thanks to Sophie and all of you for letting me share a bit about my program and my work. I wish you all health, many blessings and joy!

You can read reviews of Michael's home hypnosis program, all written by IBS sufferers, on the IBS Audio Program page.