Optimising hypnotherapy for an Aphantasis client

We all have what is known as a preferred modality, or as it is more commonly referred to, a learning style. We can typically uncover our own learning styles by answering a series of questions, which helps us to determine which of the modalities; visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, most suits us. And the truth is, while we usually have one dominant approach, we’re actually a mixture of all 3 types.

Why is this information important? 

Well, it can tell us a lot about the best approach to take with someone to achieve the optimum results. So when learning, a person with a visual modality might work well with PowerPoint presentations, videos or manuals. The auditory person might excel with podcasts and being talked through the process. Meanwhile, the kinaesthetic person may need the opportunity to learn by doing. 

We also use this information in hypnotherapy to achieve a deeper state of hypnosis and to really reinforce the key messages the session is trying to achieve. 

So for example, if we were describing a beach scene to induce a state of relaxation, for people with a preferred visual modality, we may talk about what they can see such as the sea and sand. For an auditory modality, we might mention what they can hear, such as the lapping of the waves and the sounds of the seagulls. And for our kinaesthetic clients, we may discuss what they can touch; the sand beneath their toes, or feeling the warmth of the sun on their skin. 

The best hypnosis, however, will use a combination of all of these approaches to fully engage all of your senses in the scene. When using this technique, the hypnotherapist will often put the preferred modality or modalities as the prominent sense and supplement this with any secondary styles to create a vivid imagination.

Yet for some, this still isn’t effective. We are told that some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others, and as one of these people myself, this was extremely frustrating. Here I was, learning hypnotherapy, having never experienced the effects of it myself. It became so hard to see how it could have the desired outcome when, for me, it made no impact. Despite seeing first-hand that it worked for others, it left me feeling like a fraud. How could I possibly work in the field of hypnotherapy if I could not fully buy into its potential?  

But the truth is, for me at least, it wasn’t that I was not susceptible to hypnosis. Instead, I had a condition called Aphantasia. This was something I hadn’t previously heard of and stumbled on it by pure luck. And while it’s not something I need a cream for, unfortunately, I can’t take a tablet to make it go away either. 

What is Aphantasia?

Well, it means that I have no ‘mind’s eye’. Effectively, no imagination. So no matter how many of my senses somebody tries to engage, I cannot immerse myself in any scenes other than the one I can see, hear and feel around me. 

This condition was first discovered in 2005 by Dr Zeman after a patient had lost his mind’s eye after major heart surgery. Zeman and his team termed this state as Aphantasia, derived from the Ancient Greek word ‘Phantasia’ (φᾰντᾰσῐ́ᾱ), meaning “imagination”, and the prefix a- (ᾰ̓-), which means “without”. Since then, it is estimated that between 1-3% of the population share this phenomenon. Although some believe it could be as much as 5%. 

If I’m honest, I think this number could be even higher. I had no idea that my mind operated differently from other people’s. 

What is it like to suffer from Aphantasia? 

Well, it means that I have no imagination. This is why hypnotherapy was not effective for me because it relied on the hypnotherapist setting a scene that I was unable to put myself in. Similarly, I love to read, but I do not find myself escaping from reality. I can’t hear music that isn’t playing. I can’t recall the feeling of the warmth of the sun or the crisp freshness of a winter’s morning. 

Probably the most upsetting of all is that I cannot recall people or memories to my imagination. So for example, family members who have passed away, I can remember them and describe them, but I rely on photos to see their faces again. I would know things like what colour their hair was, how tall they were and their build, but I can’t see them when they are not there. If I was to smell the perfume that they used to wear, I would know that that was the smell of them, but I wouldn’t be able to recall this to mind without the sensory prompt. I lose all ability to remember how it was to be held by them in a loving hug. 

This is not always the case. While I don’t dream often, when I do, I am immersed by all my senses in the scene as it unfolds. This can feel very real and vivid for a sufferer of Aphantasia, as we are not used to seeing, hearing and feeling things that are not there. And when we do wake up, it can often take some time to realise it wasn’t real. We need time to shake us back to reality once again. This can be particularly scary when it’s a nightmare that we are experiencing. 

And so, my mind is capable of imagination, just somewhere along the way I forgot how. 

And while it’s not known what causes this condition, I believe that it is our mind’s way of protecting us. A way to stop us from recalling to memory some sort of trauma that we aren’t able to process at that time. 

I can remember that as a child I used to play imaginative games, so I genuinely believe that I haven’t always suffered from this condition. However, I cannot remember what it was like to not. Or when I lost my ability to imagine. 

For the patient it was first detected in, this was probably caused by the trauma of the heart surgery as prior to this he had a mind’s eye. For me, I’m not so sure. I guess my mind has done a good job of protecting me, as I truly cannot remember. 

Exploring the benefits of rapid inductions for an Aphantasis client

What I’ve learned in this journey of discovery though, is that it is possible to be hypnotised. Not in the way others generally are, but instead through rapid inductions. 

These are often what we see used on TV and certainly, on my course, we were told to avoid them as these can seem sensationalised and people respond better to the progressive muscle relaxation approach. But for people like me, this is the only way I can experience hypnosis. The rapid inductions approach has meant that I’m now able to work as a hypnotherapist without feeling like a fraud.  

And, through hypnosis, I have started to rebuild this ability in me to imagine. After just one session, I dream a lot more than I’ve ever done before. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to imagine fully again, but I am hopeful that with some more sessions, I will be able to remember my loved ones that have passed and the memories that I cherish. 

So, if you have tried hypnosis in the past and have found yourself to be ‘unsusceptible’ to its effects, or you recognise any of the symptoms of Aphantasia that I have described, why not look for a hypnotherapist that works with rapid inductions instead? You may be surprised at the power of hypnosis.

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Written by Melanie Peak
Melanie Peak is a trained hypnotherapist and freelance writer for Hypnotherapy Directory. She is also a mental health blogger at The Balanced Mind (www.thebalancedmind.co.uk).
Written by Melanie Peak
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