Emotional awareness and expression training improves irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial.Neurogastroenterol Motil 2017; 29(12)NM
Current clinical guidelines identify several psychological treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS patients, however, have elevated trauma, life stress, relationship conflicts, and emotional avoidance, which few therapies directly target. We tested the effects of emotional awareness and expression training (EAET) compared to an evidence-based comparison condition-relaxation training-and a waitlist control condition.
Adults with IBS (N=106; 80% female, Mean age=36 years) were randomized to EAET, relaxation training, or waitlist control. Both EAET and relaxation training were administered in three, weekly, 50-minute, individual sessions. All patients completed the IBS Symptom Severity Scale (primary outcome), IBS Quality of Life, and Brief Symptom Inventory (anxiety, depressive, and hostility symptoms) at pretreatment and at 2 weeks posttreatment and 10 weeks follow-up (primary endpoint).
Compared to waitlist controls, EAET, but not relaxation training, significantly reduced IBS symptom severity at 10-week follow-up. Both EAET and relaxation training improved quality of life at follow-up. Finally, EAET did not reduce psychological symptoms, whereas relaxation training reduced depressive symptoms at follow-up (and anxiety symptoms at posttreatment).
CONCLUSIONS & INFERENCES
Brief emotional awareness and expression training that targeted trauma and emotional conflicts reduced somatic symptoms and improved quality of life in patients with IBS. This emotion-focused approach may be considered an additional treatment option for IBS, although research should compare EAET to a full cognitive-behavioral protocol and determine which patients are best suited for each approach. Registered at clinicaltrials.gov (NCT01886027).