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OPINION

Behavioural medicine and gastrointestinal disorders: the promise of positive psychology

Abstract

Psychosocial risk factors linked to brain–gut dysregulation are prevalent across the spectrum of gastrointestinal disorders and are associated with poor patient outcomes. Robust and reproducible data in the areas of behavioural intervention science and the brain–gut axis have led to major advances in patient care, including the routine use of brain–gut psychotherapies to manage digestive symptoms and optimize coping. The logical next step for the emerging field of psychogastroenterology is to develop a scientific framework that enables the identification of those individual characteristics and coping styles that buffer patients against the negative psychological effects of chronic gastrointestinal disorders. A shift towards a strength-based, positive psychological science of gastrointestinal disorders could facilitate the integration of early, effective psychological care into gastroenterology practice. In this Perspective, I discuss the potential role of three human strengths with relevance to gastrointestinal health — resilience, optimism and self-regulation — and how these three constructs can be cultivated through existing or emerging brain–gut psychotherapies.

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Fig. 1: Synergy between traditional gastroenterology and positive gastroenterology approaches — a way forward.

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Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology thanks G. Clarke, L. Van Oudenhove and other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Keefer, L. Behavioural medicine and gastrointestinal disorders: the promise of positive psychology. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 15, 378–386 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-018-0001-1

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