Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Abdominal Pain

A non-drug approach to easing stomach aches

Child putting hands on stomach
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Abdominal pain strikes many children, so it may be reassuring to know that there is therapy called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that can help.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that has been studied in terms of its effectiveness in helping children with abdominal pain. CBT is a type of psychotherapy in which the patient is taught healthy ways of thinking and coping behaviors to help reduce suffering. When working with a child who suffers from frequent abdominal pain, a therapist will teach relaxation and other pain management skills. In most cases, the parent would also be actively involved in the therapy; the therapist would teach the parent skills for helping this or her child to deal with pain when it occurs.

How CBT Can Help Children With Stomach Problems

A review, published by The Cochrane Collaboration, adds to proof regarding the effectiveness of CBT in reducing stomach pain in children. The review took an in-depth look at five published studies regarding CBT for abdominal pain in children. It specifically examined ​use of CBT for the treatment of recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in kids. Both RAP and IBS are classified as functional gastroenterological disorders, as there is no evidence of any visible disease process. In the review, the authors state that there does not appear to be a clear differentiation between the two diagnoses. What is clear is that abdominal pain in children is quite prevalent. Approximately 4 to 25% of children, according to the research, experience abdominal pain severe enough to prevent them from engaging in their normal routine.

Reviewers concluded that, in spite of some minor weaknesses in how the research was carried out, CBT is an effective form of treatment for children who suffer from recurrent abdominal pain.

If your child suffers with abdominal pain, CBT may be a treatment you can explore and discuss with your pediatrician.

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Article Sources

  • Huertas-Ceballos A, Logan S, Bennett C, & Macarthur C “Psychosocial interventions for recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in childhood” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1.