Hypnosis with Aphantasia

Can aphantasics be hypnotized? My experience learning to be hypnotized with imagery-free inductions.
Hypnosis with Aphantasia
Photo by Benoit Beaumatin

Table of Contents

Close Your Eyes And Visualize…

I recently wrote about meditation with aphantasia. Specifically, how guided meditation can exacerbate the (sometimes subliminal) states of confusion, frustration, shame, and inadequacy aphantasics feel when asked to visualize, which is how most guided meditations begin. My experience with hypnosis was annoyingly similar. Now… if you will… imagine a wave of relaxation washing over your body, loosening every nerve and muscle, and read on as I lead you through my journey of hypnosis with aphantasia. 😏

Guided Mediation vs Hypnosis

Guided meditation and hypnosis are very similar in that you are attempting to achieve a very deep state of relaxation using voice instruction. Here is an excerpt from a recent article I found on guidedmind.com explaining the difference between guided meditation and hypnosis:

Guided meditation is when a narrator guides you through a scene in your mind to specifically act upon a desired outcome in your life.


The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as:

a cooperative interaction in which the participant responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist.

American Psychological Association

Unlike meditation, the deeply calm state attained during hypnosis is punctuated by questions from the hypnotherapist, to which the patient/client responds, with a potential for therapeutic suggestion by the hypnotherapist to achieve a goal.

I’ve done practitioner-led (versus self-) hypnosis three times in my life. Once as a therapy to curtail a compulsive habit, and two other times for early-life regression to see if we could learn the cause of my panic attacks.

Learning To Be Hypnotized

As with guided meditation, each of my experiences with hypnosis began with the practitioner instructing me to – close your eyes and visualize… Ugh. Right away, a non-starter. The sessions geared towards my compulsive habit, which I attended in early 2000, were unsuccessful. I was frustrated by the process and only attended a few sessions. I still wrestle with this habit today. For the sessions exploring early-life regression, I had one in the mid-80’s – which is difficult to recall given it was thirty years ago, though I do remember leaving the session before it concluded and not wanting to go back – and another (virtually) this past March 2021, which was more successful.

With my eyes closed and in a deeply calm state, the practitioner started by asking me to visualize myself sitting in my chair from the opposite side of the room. I told her I couldn’t do this because, while I could remember how the room and the chair looked, I had never seen myself in the chair and so, could not even use memory as an aid. She asked me if I could imagine myself floating. Just floating. I said yes. (I recently learned that the ability to do this may be associated with motor imagery, something not everybody can do).

Okay. So now I’m floating.

She asked if I could float very high in the sky and try to imagine a small timeline track on the ground below. This timeline track would represent my life, upon which I would travel back and forth in search of pertinent memories. I was meant to float downwards to essentially zoom in on a chunk of time on the timeline track to explore a memory, with the immediate ability to zoom out and away from any memories that might cause me grief.

No, I couldn’t see the timeline track, which she already knew because right away, she asked if I could “pretend” to see the timeline track based on memories I have of an ordinary train track as seen from the air, from a helicopter or a plane. This surprised me. Previous hypnotherapists hadn’t used this “pretend” approach.

Yes, I could pretend to see a train track.

Using my ability to imagine myself floating, my memory of how a train track looked from the air, and a memory of how it felt actually to ride a train, I could perceive myself moving along the timeline track, floating up and down as the situation required. With this perception approach, versus the traditional visualization approach, she was able to take me backwards in time where I recalled a series of events in my childhood – events that I thought were separate when, in fact, had all happened on the same disturbing night (later corroborated by my siblings and father) – that provided a very plausible explanation for the onset of my panic attacks. This pretend-and-perceive approach, as I call it, was more work but in the end, we achieved my goal.

Hypnosis With Aphantasia

I decided to try a guided, past-life regression self-hypnosis session on YouTube, which, you guessed it, began with a visualization. Again, suspending whether I believe in hypnosis or not and suspending whether or not I believe in past lives, I first became deeply relaxed. Then, using the pretend-and-perceive method, I achieved my hypnosis goal.

As someone with aphantasia, I have learned to adapt, bending my capabilities in imaginative ways to service the situation at hand – meditation or hypnosis – which I realize I have been doing my entire life. I am a writer, and though I have aphantasia, I can still perceive a wondrous world of possibilities, write them down, and tell fanciful, imaginative tales.

People with aphantasia aren’t limited. We’re limitless.

You must be signed in to comment

I’ve wondered how hypnosis and aphantasia might work. Even if you can, as you describe, get past the conscious visualisation barriers on the way into a hypnotic state, can an aphantasic summon their past life in the same way as a phantasic, if they don’t have visual memories of people, places and happenings to access? Or is hypnosis finding a way into the same stash of hidden visualisations that dreaming would seem to access?

I realized in the second grade I was as blind as my totally blind-from-birth classmates when it came to describing what I saw with my eyes closed. Their mother thought I was being kind.  In my mid-thirties I saw a hypnotist freeing up some issues and was introduced to a group that was doing ‘bebirthing’, guided hypnosis with breathwork, all in the attempt to discover and remove past incidents. Sounds like past-life regression, perhaps.  While re-experiencing the incident it was in full living color, sight sounds, and smells from the incident as I watched at the same time. Each incident disappeared and the stuff I made up about it along with it.  Eventually, after months of incidents to go through, I experienced the tingling sensation of birth.  All further attempts initially returned me to my birth experience. A new approach had me discover incidents that were not mine. They were all in black and white, almost fuzzy, and given I knew the people involved I discovered incidents from my father’s childhood. I would ask him about the events without suggesting I had the knowledge from ‘dreams’. He corroborated his incidents as well as the major issue from my first serious memory at age two.  A decade later I did a rebirthing session and just returned to my birth experience.  I do not dream in pictures but dream in word streams.  I know I am dreaming and use them as concepts I need to pay attention to while awake.  My ability to hear the ‘wee small voice within’ is significant and I can ignore the amygdala’s [lizard brain] constant harping or the monkey mind’s incessant chatter. When I cannot, I take a nap.  Knowing or understanding makes very little difference to me.  I suspect it makes little difference to anyone… everyone KNOWS what they have to do to lose weight.  The knowing makes no difference except when it does once in a while.  However, when I discover something, that rocks me back, shocks me somehow, that always impacts me going forward.  I suspect my aphantasia has saved me from many difficulties because I have no ‘movies’ to rerun over and over.  I wouldn’t trade my way for a crystal clear photographic memory ever.