Investigating the role of psychological flexibility and the use of an acceptance and commitment therapy based intervention in irritable bowel syndrome
Ferreira, Nuno Monteiro Da Rocha Bravo
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common chronic illness thought to be originated and maintained by a combination of physiological, psychological and social factors. IBS is known to be associated with a high psychosocial impact on patients’ lives. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an emerging model of conceptualization and treatment that states that most suffering in chronic illness can be explained by a lack of psychological flexibility or acceptance to experience aversive bodily sensations, thoughts or emotions. ACT treatments target the increase of psychological flexibility as a key change for improvement in outcomes. Recent studies suggest that ACT could not only be an effective alternative treatment for IBS, as it might provide a valuable model of understanding of the relations between the different factors related to this condition and its outcomes. The first aim of the present research was to investigate the role of psychological flexibility in IBS, in particular, how acceptance relates to psychological, emotional and physical factors in this condition. The second aim was to investigate the effectiveness of an ACT based intervention in increasing psychological flexibility in IBS and thereby improving IBS Outcomes. These aims were addressed by conducting two related studies. In Study 1, a sample of 121 IBS patients attending a specialized gastroenterology clinic completed a series of self-report measures of psychological flexibility (acceptance), psychological factors known to be associated with IBS and IBS outcomes. Results indicated that higher levels of acceptance were generally associated with and predicted better levels of IBS biopsychosocial factors. Results also showed that acceptance mediated most of the relationships between IBS predictors and Outcomes. Also, psychometric analyses of a novel measure of IBS Acceptance (i.e. IBS Acceptance and Action Questionnaire) created for this study demonstrated that it had good reliability and validity. In Study 2, fifty six IBS patients enrolled in an intervention involving a one day ACT workshop and an ACT based self-help workbook. Thirty six participants provided follow-up data up to 6 months after the workshop. Results indicated that there were significant increases in acceptance and significant improvement in IBS outcomes between pre-treatment and follow-up. Further to that, analyses indicated that changes in IBS Outcomes occurred through changes in acceptance as hypothesized by the ACT model. These studies suggest that psychological flexibility processes are important in the understanding of IBS and that improvement in this condition may result from a more psychologically flexible stance to it. Although preliminary, these studies provide a basis for the further development and application of the ACT model of conceptualization and treatment in IBS.