The Behavioral Medicine for Digestive Health program at Northwestern’s Digestive Health Center is oneof the largest fully integrated Psychogastroenterology programs in the country. The behavioral medicineprogram integrates research, clinical practice, and training opportunities to provide patients with chronicdigestive diseases the most up to date and effective care.
GI psychologists provide evidence-based treatments that directly treat GI symptoms, and research has indicated behavioral treatment for some digestive conditions can be more effective than medication alone. In addition to directly addressing a patient’s symptom experience, behavioral treatment can also help people learn how to cope in healthier ways to reduce the impact their condition on their lives.
How do psychological and behavioral therapies help with GI symptoms?
With many digestive conditions, researchers have discovered there is a powerful, bi-directional communication pathway between the brain and the gut. The brain and the gut are in constant communication via a complex interaction between the nervous system and cognitive, neural, endocrine, hormonal, and immune pathways. At its most basic, the brain and the gut are constantly speaking with one another about how to function, and sometimes those messages don’t go through correctly. When we experience stressful situations, strong emotions, disrupted sleep, food triggers, and other forms of stress on our bodies and minds, this also affects the brain-gut communication.
GI-focused psychological and behavioral interventions directly treat and reduce GI symptoms by targeting this brain-gut connection. In fact, these treatments are often called “brain-gut therapies” or “brain targeted therapies.” The psychologists on the Behavioral Medicine team at Northwestern work with patient’s to help them better understand their condition and the role of brain-gut communication in symptoms , and teach patients how to apply behavioral and psychological techniques that can directly target and reduce GI symptoms.
We also know that digestive conditions impact more than just your gut. Living with a chronic digestive condition can have a tremendous impact on everyday life and functioning, and at times can cause significant stress, worry, frustration, and disappointment, and for many people, can lead to feelings of depression and increased anxiety. GI psychologists work with patients to assist them in understanding and adjusting to the diagnosis and the daily demands of managing the condition, to help patients cope with flares and anxiety about prognosis or symptoms, and to learn strategies to improve self-management and overall sense of well-being and health.
The Behavioral Medicine for Digestive Health program offers individual and group services at both the inpatient and outpatient level. The Digestive Health Foundation has generously supported both research and clinical care initiatives for our patients including our monthly Inflammatory Bowel Disease Support Group.