Hypnotherapy could help people with severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), researchers say.
Hypnosis could ease symptoms
Doctors should consider using this and other "psychological" treatments such as antidepressants to help sufferers, King's College London experts say in the British Medical Journal.
However, a shortage of therapists could hinder this, they add.
Experts said there was growing evidence that IBS cases have psychological as well as biological elements.
IBS is a common and painful medical condition that has a wide range of symptoms, including regular abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation.
Conventional medicines prescribed for IBS often ease symptoms partially, or not at all.
Many scientists now believe that the cause in many cases is a combination of mental and physical factors, and that the drugs commonly used to tackle it may be aiming at the wrong target.
Patients with IBS are more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
Dr Ian Forgacs, a consultant gastroenterologist from Kings College, says that doctors are often reluctant to prescribe anti-depressants, especially in patients who, apart from their IBS, show no outward signs of being depressed.
He urged them to consider other forms of psychological therapy, including hypnotherapy, as an alternative in some cases.
"Patients with irritable bowel syndrome should be made aware of the existence of these treatments so that they can make informed choices," he said.
"Specifically, they should be made aware that using a psychological treatment does not mean that the disease is 'all in the mind'."
He found that one of the most effective treatments for IBS in research studies were so-called "talking therapies", such as cognitive behavioural therapy, particularly for people whose symptoms were causing them the most distress.
And severe cases of IBS could be improved by using hypnotherapy to target the links between the brain and the gut.
Hypnosis sessions concentrated on encouraging relaxation, then visualising the gut as a fast flowing river which is then imagined to be flowing more slowly and smoothly.
Dr Forgacs said that one obstacle to providing psychological therapies was a lack of the right specialists in some areas.
"Irritable bowel syndrome is undeniably very common, and many patients are probably denied help by lack of access to therapists with the appropriate psychological skills," he said.
Dr Nick Read, a psychologist and adviser to the IBS Network, said he felt that the majority of IBS patients had a psychologists element to their condition.
He said: "There's now a lot of evidence that psychological therapies can be effective, but a lot of doctors remain sceptical, and carry on treating with drugs which have side-effects, and which basically don't work.
"I work with patients with IBS trying to understand what, for each patient, lies behind the illness."