Trivializing Pain

This may be the ultimate celebrity trivia question: What do Tyra Banks, Camille Grammer, Jenny McCarthy, Cher, Kirsten Dunst, Fran Dresher, Cybill Shepherd, and Lynda Carter have in common? —What do these eight have in common with the late Elizabeth Taylor, Kurt Cobain, Sigmund Freud, and Adolph Hitler? Are you baffled?

These twelve are among the most noted or confessed sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Banks and Grammer have spoken publically of their battles with IBS. In 2007, Shepherd was spokeswoman for a medication (no longer available) which she had used to treat her IBS. Carter became an IBS advocate when her mother was diagnosed after suffering for 30 years. Cobain wrote about his IBS pain and his use of heroin to cope with the pain.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) defines Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS as a disorder characterized most commonly by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to a serious disease, such as cancer. Most people can control their symptoms with diet, stress management, and prescribed medications. For some people, however, IBS can be disabling. They may be unable to work, attend social events, or even travel short distances. IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. It is more common in women. About 1 in 6 people in the U.S. have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal complaint for which patients are referred to a gastroenterologist.

IBS is very common, affecting an estimated 9% to 23% of the world’s population. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders mission is to focus attention on important health messages about IBS diagnosis, treatment, and quality-of-life issues. Since 1997, April has been designated as IBS Awareness Month.

There are currently 245 clinical research trials investigating various treatments for IBS including dietary supplements (Probiotics, Selenium, Turmeric Green Tea), yoga, expressive writing, electro-acupuncture, low carbohydrate diets, Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis as well as more traditional pharmacologic therapies.

As a practicing psychotherapist, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the benefits of cognitive therapy in more detail. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the branch of psychotherapy that says our thoughts can influence our actions and our emotions. This form of psychotherapy concentrates on the role our thoughts play. People suffering from IBS often have negative perceptions of their condition and are very self-conscious. They will often wonder how others perceive them, for instance, when they make repeated trips to the restroom. Compounding the negative effects of the symptoms with negative thought patterns can exacerbate the illness and form a vicious cycle where one leads to the other.

Cognitive therapy is based on the assumption that there are certain expectations (cognitions) that determine the way people respond to situations in their lives. The problems arise when these expectations are irrational or not normal, leading to a negative perception of oneself. CBT is relatively short term and very structured. It focuses on teaching people to recognize and understand their negative expectations so they can react more appropriately.

Behavior techniques are effective for problems that are associated with patterns that require correction. It is a common form of treatment and has been used for IBS, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, phobias, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive behaviors. Behavior therapies include relaxation training and systemic de-sensitization. The relaxation training helps a person gain control over feelings of tension. Systemic desensitization decreases a person’s fear of certain thoughts that could start or complicate the symptoms of IBS. Deep muscle relaxation is taught to counter anxiety, so the individual is taught to envision soothing and safe experiences. Then the person visualizes uncomfortable scenes or scenes that provoke anxiety. The two images are repeatedly coupled until the disturbing scenes no longer initiate anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps people recognize the self-defeating thoughts as they happen and look for better or more optimistic ways to view their condition. In addition, CBT empowers people to take better control of their body’s autonomic functions without the use of drugs.

A randomized controlled trial in Germany comparing relaxation training with cognitive-behavioral therapy and general advice with dietary consultations showed positive results. The study found significant benefit for IBS with intensive therapy tailored more to the individual, including education on relaxation techniques, GI function, social skills, and recognizing irrational thoughts. Good therapist-patient relationship where there was sufficient explanation of the various techniques further reduced anxiety and symptoms.

So, if you or someone you love has IBS, more than likely many attempts at treatment have been made. Special diets, exercise, medications, treatments, all take up time, energy, money and other resources. It is important to know that if psychotherapeutic techniques are suggested it doesn’t mean that IBS is “in your head,” far from it. We are learning so much about the mind/body connection that I hope you will draw inspiration and hope for your suffering.

So, back to our trivia ….I offered 12 famous names from celebrity and history. But if 1 in 6 in the US are sufferers from IBS or another digestive disorder, you can bet that more of the famous are also struggling under the pain and ‘shame’ of the condition. Oh, there is one other name to add to this list, not so very famous, but a writer-therapist you may know, Ms. Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S. and IBS sufferer.


Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S. is a psychotherapist in private practice on the Lehigh Valley PA. She was born in Philadelphia in May 1960, eldest of three children. She was greatly interested in writing, language, theater and music throughout her youth which opened opportunity such as performance, travel, and academics. Gail-Elaine had planned a career in teaching English but upon seeing the state of secondary education in the 80s, she re-tooled her skills to become an addictions counselor.

She was married and has a gifted son with AS. She had a career in Art and entrepreneurial publishing while raising him. Upon her divorce she furthered her credentials with a Masters in Clinical Psychology and Master Levels in Reiki training. Her goal is to change the stigma of mental illness and facilitate positive solutions for her clients.

Gail-Elaine continues her work in trauma, chronic pain, grief, and addictions in her general practice of psychotherapy with art and somatic psychology. She serves as Therapist, Consultant, Life Coach, Reiki Teacher, Advocate, Community Speaker, Blogger [], and also as Features Contributor for PCM.

The advice contained in this web site is presented for information and entertainment purposes only. The material is in no way intended to replace professional medical care or attention by a qualified mental health professional. Keep in mind that asking for advice relating to a problem, be aware of the limitations related to a web based discussion. Ms.Tinker cannot answer each and every question personally, however, she offers a wealth of informational links on her private website. Questions and answers selected for publication on this site reflect intent for information and do not intend to discriminate on any basis other than our perceived relevance to our viewers and timely variety of the subject matter.

Submit your questions or concerns to Gail-Elaine via e-mail directly here. Your privacy is very important to us. We will not give away any personal information for anyone submitting legitimate questions, with the exception of those who reveal crime or intention to do harm to self or others.

The material in this web site cannot and should not be used as a basis for diagnosis or choice of treatment.


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