Symbolically modelling IBS

Clean in Coaching and Therapy

By Angela Dunbar, June 2008

My first coaching session with G. was pretty straightforward. We agreed to work together over 6 monthly sessions, and G. set 3 goals:

  • To get more structure into her life (including fitness and social activities)
  • To take better care of her partner, children and home
  • To get a part-time job.

We talked a while about these goals and as usually happens, these were more complex than at first appeared. G. explained to me that she ‘nearly died’ a year and a half ago, with what was eventually diagnosed as IBS (irritable bowel problem). It still bothered her but it was under control. By the end of our first session she went away with clear strategies and actions for each of her three goals.

A month later I saw her for her second session. I was shocked when she walked in. Previously she had been very slim. Now she was skin and bone.

I asked her how she was. She was quite positive and upbeat and spoke of a few successful actions she had achieved, and spoke excitedly about ambitious aims for the future.

She also explained that her IBS had been bad over the month and she had lost a lot of weight. She said that she now realised she needed to take care of herself and put herself and her health as a priority.

She explained that when her IBS gets bad she can lose half a stone in a week.

“What triggers it?” I asked.

“It’s actually not much to do with what I eat, it’s about what goes on up here” she said, pointing to her head.

“What happens just before the IBS gets bad?” I asked.

“Some kind of stressful situation, usually an argument with my partner,” she answered.

"Okay," I was thinking, "It might be worth modelling out what’s going on inside her head that then affects her digestion. I wonder if we can do that symbolically?"

I explained in very simple terms what I was going to do. G. closed her eyes and I asked CL questions of the ‘here’ where it ‘goes on’. In a relatively short while we were able to map out a process, which started with an electric spark that came into her head, then flowed down her body like a rush of water. In her stomach it churns round and round, then gets flushed out to remove all the stressful toxins, leaving her cleansed. "Hmmm. A positive intention here," I thought.

“And when it gets flushed out, and you want to put yourself and your health as a priority, what would you like to have happen?”

“I’d like to be able to absorb the nutrients from all the food I have eaten before it leaves my body." We were able to take this back to the metaphor, where G. ended up floating in slow-flowing water, holding on to a dolphin and being completely still and relaxed. The final piece was a simple spiral that moved around anti-clockwise, rather than the clockwise churning she previously had. At the end of the session she was drawing spiral after spiral, getting the size and speed of turning just right. I knew something had shifted.

We talked about how she could physicalize this shift, and represent the spiral somehow at home around her. She had the perfect idea. A large, beautiful stone she had collected from the seaside. She said she would draw her spiral on it as soon as she got home.

After the session I thought hard about what I would do when she returned for her next session, and after speaking with my supervisor I recognised that if she had lost further weight I probably needed to have her stop coaching and seek further medical help.

She came for her next session last week, and had gained nearly a stone in weight. “I don’t know what happened exactly, but the electric spark doesn’t have the same energy as it did before.”

And she had drawn her spiral on her stone. “I hold it every now and again” she said.

What was so interesting about this was we were modelling out an unconscious bodily process, how her digestive system was working.  Just so fascinating to see how ultimately it was all being controlled by the mind and how the positive intent of ‘cleansing the toxins’ was affecting her, without her realising on a conscious level.

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