Gastrointestinal Behavioral Health

This video explains the way our brain and digestive system communicate with each other through the brain-gut connection.

What is the brain-gut connection?

Do you ever go into a big moment feeling like your stomach “is doing back flips” or “has butterflies”? Or perhaps you’ve felt “sick to your stomach” after getting bad news. The link between our brains and digestive systems has been recognized by society for so long, the English language has specific phrases to describe this link. The brain-gut connection is how our brains and digestive systems use nerves and chemical signals to communicate with each other.

Communication is constantly happening between our brains and our guts. Examples of this communication include when our:

  • Brain signals:
    • Our stomach to secrete acid when breaking down food
    • We are full after eating a meal
    • We are hungry and our mouth salivates
    • We need to have a bowel movement
  • Stomach and intestines send messages back to the brain with information about digestion

The brain usually mutes these signals after some time to allow us to focus on other things in our daily lives. Sometimes, though, the signals between the brain can be broken. When this happens communication between the brain and the gut can become disrupted.

Disruption of the brain-gut connection

Causes of brain-gut disruption

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Illness
  • Infection
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Strong negative emotions

The brain-gut connection can be disrupted when the brain or nervous system are disturbed for a long time. When the link between the brain and gut is disrupted, the brain may:

  • Perceive gut sensations more intensely
  • Struggle to quiet signaling from the digestive system

This disruption can lead to symptoms such as abdominal discomfort or pain or anxiety.

Research has found that disrupted communication in the brain-gut connection is involved in many types of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, disorders of brain-gut interaction and eating disorders.

How can gastrointestinal (GI) behavioral health help me with my GI issue?

Brain-gut therapies—or gastrointestinal behavioral health—can help you develop skills to “turn down the volume” on the signals coming from your gut. This can help reduce gut disturbances and symptoms.

What treatments are helpful for people with GI conditions?

Generally, the therapies used in behavioral health to treat or help manage GI conditions are called brain-gut behavior therapies. They are evidence-based, time-limited, structured treatments that can be delivered individually or in a group setting. These therapies are focused on:

  • Improving resilience, coping and quality of life
  • Reducing stress, anxiety, negative emotions and unhelpful thoughts and behaviors

We offer several treatment modalities in both individual and group settings. Review the therapies and treatments we offer.

Can I talk to my GI provider about this treatment?

If you are wondering if GI behavioral health is right for you, you can contact your GI provider to ask them. We believe many of our patients can benefit from taking part in one of our group classes. Please contact your GI provider using the myDH portal.

GI Behavioral Health team

Learn about our providers and staff.

Treatments and services

View the treatments and therapies we offer. Our services are provided:

  • In-person in Lebanon, New Hampshire for individual, one-on-one appointments
  • Online for individual and group settings using video conferencing applications such as Webex or Zoom

Supportive resources

We provide recommendations for books, articles and blogs to read and videos that may help you in addition to our treatments and services.

Patient stories

"At first, I didn't realize how my mind was accepting negative self-talk on a daily basis as truth. Once we got into practicing some of the CBT elements, I found immediate relief. I noticed I had often been predicting bad outcomes and spent a lot of time trying to control scenarios to avoid negative feelings."

Patient D

"I participated in a group and a clinical trial for sleep problems and Crohn’s disease. There's no cure for Crohn's and colitis but getting one's sleep under control is a major help! The peaceful audios I listen to and having a set time to worry and write it all down have helped give me peace during the day."

Patient J

"The group classes afforded me the opportunity to share my experiences and listen to some of the issues that my fellow participants were facing. Most importantly, the sessions provided me with a practical set of tools for real-world applications to help guide me through the day-to-day stressors and the physical manifestations they can cause."

Patient R