How to Deal With Aphantasia in Hypnosis

Filed under: Hypnosis Training

How To Deal With Aphantasia In Hypnosis

It's fairly common for some people to struggle with visualization exercises. As hypnotists and hypnosis trainers, we often encounter individuals who have difficulty imagining a particular thing in their minds. 

However, some go as far as to claim they suffer from a rare clinical condition known as aphantasia

People with aphantasia are described as unable to voluntarily create mental images. Without this resource, they’d be incapable of following simple instructions involving imagination, particularly visualizations.

If that were indeed the case, it would be a real concern. Visualization being such a useful tool and often an integral part of hypnosis (and self-hypnosis) work, the inability to visualize would be a great hindrance to anyone hoping to do some kind of change work.

Most of the time, though, aphantasia isn’t a real issue, but a misunderstanding of what we actually hope to achieve with a visualization. 

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Visualization Is Not Hyperphantasia

Just because it’s called visualization, it doesn’t mean you can actually see anything.

A large number of people seem to expect visualization to be as realistic as watching a movie on a screen. This ability is called hyperphantasia by scientists, and it’s just as rare as aphantasia. 

The truth is very few people can actually create mental images as clear and vivid as actual vision. If hyperphantasia were necessary for hypnosis work, we wouldn’t be able to help many people. 

If, like us, you’re interested in using hypnosis to change your behavior and improve your life, rest assured that your regular visualization abilities will suffice.

Do I Have Aphantasia?

Even after learning that a below-average performance at visualization is good enough for hypnosis, a few people will insist that they still can’t visualize.

We can safely assume that at least 90% of these people still have unrealistic expectations of what visualization is supposed to be. In that case, we’ll suggest a couple of exercises to determine once and for all, whether they have aphantasia or not.

It’s really simple. Without leaving this page, follow through with these exercises:

  1. Describe to yourself your own face’s appearance.
  2. Think about your house or apartment building. What’s the color of its outer walls? Answer to yourself.

Pretty easy, huh?

Guess what? If you were able to follow through both of these exercises, you’re able to visualize. It’s as simple as that.

Being able to visualize is nothing to brag about. You probably weren’t able to see neither your face nor the outer walls of your residence as clearly as you can see these words on your screen. If you were, then congratulations. You possess a unique ability.

However, those who weren’t able to can still benefit from visualization in hypnosis. Whatever visual representation your mind generated in order to answer those two questions can be effectively used in a hypnosis or self hypnosis -  and you’ll get the exact same results as someone who has a movie theater room inside his brain.

Reframing Visualization

By now, you’ve probably realized you’re perfectly able to visualize. Nonetheless, if you’re a hypnosis professional, you may still encounter clients who claim to not be able to visualize.

To solve this problem, you can run them through the same exercises you just did. After they’ve successfully described their faces and color of their home, explain how that’s all the visualization you truly expect. That will work most of the time.

There’s an elegant way of bypassing the visualization problem when a client seems dead set on maintaining the belief that they can’t visualize. Just ask them a simple question:

“If you could visualize, what would it be like?”

Very often, they’ll start describing what they think a visualization is supposed to be. 

As you may have guessed, that’s a visualization in and of itself, but they still may not be convinced. No problem. In that case, you can simply say:

“Then pretend you’re visualizing and go with it.”

The visualization will work whether they think they’re visualizing or not. If you tell them to pretend, they’ll be satisfied that they’re not expected to actually visualize, while at the same time following your instructions perfectly.

As for self hypnosis, it gets easier with practice. So if you’re still struggling with not being able to visualize as well as you’d like to, pretend you’re visualizing and keep pretending until you forget that was even an issue.

How to Hypnotize an Aphantasic Client

We honestly believe that most people who claim to suffer from aphantasia are in fact expressing misconceptions about the nature of visualization.

That being said, we cannot deny that real aphantasia exists. There are people who are indeed completely unable to generate even the blurriest and most vague visual mental representations. These are rare cases indeed, but they exist nonetheless. 

Should a hypnotist identify a truly aphantasic client, reframing the meaning of visualization won't work. To achieve results in these circumstances, it becomes necessary to use alternative techniques.

The minds of truly aphantasic people use different and unusual mechanisms to recall visual information. An expert hypnotist might be able to identify these mechanisms by calibrating the client's experience and asking relevant questions, but there is possibly a simpler solution.

Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (V.A.K.) are the three modalities (or representational systems) our brains use to process information. All three modalities can be used in hypnosis. Each modality has sub-categories called submodalities, a concept that is used extensively in neurolinguistic programming (NLP) for a wide variety of purposes.

Notice that, with multiple representational systems at our disposal and the possibilities each of them has to offer, it's not necessary to rely heavily on just one of them to create change. To put it more simply: when a client is convinced that they cannot visualize, just use a different modality instead.

It a client says "I can't visualize it", you may respond with "but you don't have to visualize. Maybe you can... feel it... or perhaps even... hear it." These embedded commands denote a shift in the hypnotist's strategy, where they'll resort to other representational systems to induce trance and  create change.

Aphantasia is just one of the several possible situations that highlight the importance of having flexibility of behavior as a hypnotist. This kind of flexibilty is the defining feature of Mike Mandel's Neo-Ericksonian approach, and a requirement for performing masterful hypnotic work.

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