Since my letter asking for feedback from anyone who had personal or professional experience of aphantasia was published in the March edition of Therapy Today, I have had some very interesting correspondence.
Some counsellors curious about the etiology of the condition have wanted to know more about it while others have written to say they themselves experience it. One correspondent wrote as both counsellor and client, telling me she had been able to work effectively as a counsellor without knowing she had aphantasia, while being aware that imagery and visualisation were limited. Many of those who contacted me indicated their interest in the subject and have offered their help in exploring this condition further.
It has also become evident from these responses that aphantasia manifests across a wide spectrum, varying from those – such as my client AF – who have no visual memory at all, to people who have only colour memory and others whose dreams are visual but other memories are not.
One respondent explained how she had gained more depth in her perception (from 2D to 3D) through her own personal therapy which was an exciting development for her and raises questions around which areas of the brain are affected by this condition and the possibility of different connections being made.
Dr Oliver Sachs, in his book, On the Move, described how a neurological limitation in one area of the brain can result in the more sophisticated development in another, and it would be interesting to explore this further in connection with aphantasia.
For example, my client, AF, works in computer technology and knows of others with aphantasia who work in the same field. That might indicate a higher facility in mathematical and analytical brain function.
As far as the therapy with AF is concerned, he feels he is definitely happier. The depression and hopelessness that he presented with are no longer with him, nor is the need to consume alcohol in order to lift the burden of time which he experienced as so intolerable.
We have been focusing on trying to find a purpose to his life that feels worthwhile to him and he has recently adjusted his schedule in order to give himself time for activities that feel meaningful.
This feels quite a positive step forward and he is presenting with more energy and enthusiasm, although his activities are concentrated on helping others and trying to improve the state of the world, rather than on pleasures for himself which he struggles to identify or regards as indulgent. Even though he continues to offer great depths of compassion towards others, connections to his own childhood feelings remain difficult for him to access.
During our sessions, AF has been able to recall some childhood memories through narrative, but nothing that he identifies as traumatic (it is, of course, possible that these remain split off) and, as yet, there is no evidence to indicate that his mind-blindness has had any affect on his existentially dark view of the world.
AF's therapy has also been a very interesting process for me because following his journey has led sessions to develop in unexpected directions at times while some other routes remain blocked, so maybe I have my own experience of a certain type of mind-blindness during this process.
From the responses I have received, and my work with AF, I am left with a sense of the widely diverse ways people experience aphantasia and, indeed, react to it.
One writer describes it as an advantage in that it allows them a less cluttered and more immediate experience of life that is not distracted by visual imagery.
To my mind, this further challenges sensory “norms” and shows how careful we need to be in making any forgone conclusions about how any client may feel about any given condition.
By: Sue Sutcliffe
Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist
BA (Hons), MBACP (Senior Accredited)
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash