A randomized clinical trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for women with irritable bowel syndrome-Effects and mechanisms

Henrich JF1, Gjelsvik B2, Surawy C2, Evans E3, Martin M4. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2020 Apr;88(4):295-310. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000483.


Author information

Unit of Health, Medical and Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Leiden University.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

Oxford Psychological Medicine Centre, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford.


OBJECTIVE: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of brain-gut interaction. Previous studies suggest that mindfulness could be therapeutic for IBS patients, however no study has evaluated the effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy adapted for patients with IBS (MBCT-IBS). A 6-week MBCT-IBS course was designed to reduce symptoms and increase quality of life. This study aimed to evaluate the effects of MBCT-IBS and to investigate its therapeutic mechanisms in a randomized controlled trial.

METHOD: Sixty-seven female patients with IBS were randomized to MBCT-IBS (MG; n = 36) or a waitlist (WL; n = 31) control condition. Patients completed standardized self-report measures of IBS symptom severity, IBS quality of life, maladaptive illness cognitions (catastrophizing, visceral anxiety sensitivity) and mindfulness at baseline, after 2 treatment sessions, at posttreatment, and at 6-week follow-up. Self-referential processing of illness and health was measured with an implicit association test (IAT).

RESULTS: The MG reported significantly greater reductions in IBS symptoms (p = .003) and improvements in quality of life (p < .001) at follow-up compared with the WL. Changes in visceral anxiety sensitivity and pain catastrophizing at posttreatment and reductions in the IAT-score after 2 sessions combined with increases in nonjudgmental awareness at posttreatment mediated reductions in IBS symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: MBCT-IBS has the potential to reduce IBS symptoms and increase quality of life. MBCT-IBS may exert its effect on IBS symptoms via reducing maladaptive illness cognitions and activating changes in self-processing (reducing biases in self-referent processing of illness and health and increasing nonjudgmental awareness). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

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