In hypnotherapy we use visualisation techniques as tools to promote change. Whether we are rewinding a trauma, performing a progressive muscle relaxation or re-framing something, visualisation is a key component in the process of change.
Often clients struggle with either creating images in their imaginations or difficulty in seeing them clearly. Sometimes this can be due to high levels of anxiety where control has passed to our system 1 or emotional brain and we’ve entered into the flight/fight/freeze response. In this state, we perceive threat to be all around and this would also include the hypnotherapist instructing you to relax and visualise something. It just won’t happen with too much anxiety present.
Rarely, the inability to visualise can be due to a unique wiring in the brain called aphantasia, where the brain literally cannot visualise or make mental pictures. Aphantasia was discovered in 2015 by Dr Adam Zeman (University of Exeter) who describes it as:
“aphantasia…the inability to voluntary create mental images.”Dr Adam Zeman
So, you might be wondering if you cannot visualise, then hypnosis it not going to work for you as it relies on being able to do this. The truth is that most people are unable to create mental images that are as real and vivid as those seen through their own eyes. The actual degree of clarity varies from person to person, but the thing is that it really doesn’t matter whether you have a crystal-clear image or a dull faint distant, grainy picture. Whatever comes to mind when asked to visualise something is good enough to work with in hypnosis and the results will be the same as for someone who is able to reconstruct an image with perfect clarity (very few people can actually do this).
Imagination vs Reality
Our brains cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality so just pretending that you can visualise will work too. When pretending that we can visualise we are not setting any expectations and whatever comes to mind will be accepted as a visualisation, it doesn’t matter whether it bears any resemblance to reality or not. With this method you’ll be able to pretend and perceive which in itself is a visualisation. We can also substitute ‘see’ for ‘feel’ and be instructed to ‘pretend that you are now leaving your body and floating upwards to the sky, perhaps you can feel butterflies in your tummy as you momentarily defy the effects of gravity’.
So even if you struggle with being unable to visualise, remember that this will not prevent you from enjoying the wonderful positive changes than can be achieved through hypnotherapy. Just accept whatever comes to mind and go with it.