Gastrointestinal Behavioral Medicine Program | Loyola Medicine

Gastrointestinal Behavioral Medicine Program

The Gastrointestinal (GI) Behavioral Medicine Program is fully integrated into Loyola’s Digestive Health Program and provides behavioral treatment options for patients with a wide range of digestive health conditions. For some individuals, stress can contribute to the onset or course of their digestive disease. Additionally, living with chronic GI symptoms can be challenging and impact work, relationships and overall quality of life.

Behavioral interventions have been specifically developed to address the psychological factors and pain sensitivity associated with digestive disorders. We believe that optimal management of digestive health can be achieved through a multidisciplinary approach and our behavioral medicine services are an integral part of this model. This commitment to a multidisciplinary approach has helped gastrointestinal & GI surgery services at Loyola University Medical Center achieve a national ranking from U.S. News & World Report's 2020-21 Best Hospitals list.

Why Choose Loyola for Behavioral Medicine Services

Loyola’s Digestive Health Program is committed to addressing the psychosocial needs of our patients. Research indicates that behavioral treatments can be highly effective for improving the management of many GI disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Loyola is one of only a few institutions in the country to offer these specialized services. Our behavioral treatments are provided by and under the supervision of a board-certified health psychologist who has a unique understanding of the psychosocial needs of patients with GI disorders. Our behavioral medicine providers work closely with physicians, dietitians, physical therapists and nurses to coordinate care and meet the unique needs of each patient.    

Conditions Treated by the GI Behavioral Medicine Program

Loyola’s behavioral medicine specialists work closely with your gastroenterologist to help you manage the following conditions:

Treatment and Specialized Services

The behavioral medicine team offers consultation and behavioral treatments for patients with a wide range of digestive health conditions. Our team is committed to providing the highest standard of care to our patients and all therapists have received specialized training in psychological interventions for GI disorders, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and gut-directed hypnosis. These treatments have proven efficacy in a number of well-controlled clinical trials and are widely accepted as the most effective psychological interventions for GI conditions. Our goal is to teach patients self-management skills that they can use to better manage their health and improve the quality of life.

Specialized Services

Consultation with a GI health psychologist: Patients with GI disorders are eligible to meet with one of our behavioral medicine providers for a consultation to learn more about our services, determine if he/she is a candidate for treatment, and for education on the brain-gut connection and influence of stress on digestive health. The psychologist will collaborate with your gastroenterologist to develop a treatment plan to address your specific needs. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of therapy that has been shown to be effective in improving the management of a variety medical conditions. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, CBT is a short-term, collaborative treatment that is focused on a patient’s current problems and symptoms. CBT involves changing thinking patterns and behaviors to help patients cope with unpredictable and uncomfortable digestive symptoms and reduce stress. The ultimate goal of CBT is to provide patients with the tools they need to manage symptoms independently. To that end, the treatment always involves practice and homework outside of the session. This is a short-term treatment approach and many patients require as few as four to five sessions.

Gut-directed hypnotherapy: Research has shown that hypnosis is one of the most successful treatment options for IBS and is widely used to help patients cope with chronic pain conditions. Hypnosis encourages a state of focused attention and deep relaxation during which images and verbal suggestions are used to positively influence emotional and physical symptoms. Patients typically find hypnosis very comfortable and relaxing and it generally has no negative side effects. 

Relaxation training: Relaxation exercises address the physiological, cognitive and emotional aspects of stress. Through guided relaxation training, patients learn to discover a relaxed, restful state. Relaxation can help relieve muscle tension, decrease pain, reduce stress and improve physical health. Relaxation comes in many forms, including diaphragmatic breathing training, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and mindfulness meditation. Many patients find that relaxation techniques are valuable skills that can be helpful for coping with and improving GI symptoms. 

Coping with a new diagnosis: Our health psychologists offer consultation and psychological services to patients that have been recently diagnosed with a digestive health condition, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or celiac disease. Patients who are newly diagnosed may feel overwhelmed with information and have concerns about the effects of the disease on their lifestyle (e.g., relationships, employment, educational goals). Addressing these concerns with a GI health psychologist familiar with the disease can be helpful. Common topics in these sessions include:

  • When and how to disclose your illness
  • The impact of the disease on relationships
  • Coping with the unpredictability of symptoms
  • Addressing the fears of surgery

In addition, health psychology services can provide behavioral strategies to improve health behaviors that can impact disease management, such as smoking cessation, sleep hygiene and stress reduction.

Common Questions About GI Behavioral Medicine Services

What about medication?

The behavioral medicine team does not prescribe medications but will work with either your gastroenterologist or psychiatrist to make sure you receive optimal treatment.

What should I expect during my first visit?

Your first visit will entail a complete psychological evaluation. During this visit, you will be asked a series of questions about your medical condition, emotions, stress level, family, work, living situation and other relevant concerns. This initial session will take 60 minutes. After this session, your therapist will make recommendations as to whether or not behavioral health services are appropriate for you and what specific types of treatment will be most beneficial for your needs.  

How long does treatment take?

Our psychological team provides short-term interventions, typically requiring between five to seven sessions. Follow-up appointments are typically scheduled once a week or biweekly for 45 or 60-minute sessions. 

Will my insurance plan cover these services?

Many insurance plans will cover the cost of behavioral medicine services. These services are typically covered under a person’s medical insurance instead of their mental health benefits. You should contact your insurance company to learn more about your benefits.

Research and Education

Loyola’s behavioral medicine specialists are actively pursuing new research focused on the association of psychosocial factors with digestive health. Our specialists are routinely invited to speak at national meetings and are involved in training programs to promote the development of Gastrointestinal Behavioral Medicine programs at medical centers around the country.