Working with a person with Aphantasia

Hi. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist working with a 18yo client who has this, and came to therapy for anxiety, some of which seems related and some not. One of the things he is experiencing some fears around driving because he can’t picture a map in his mind. I can see I’m going to be spending a lot is time on this site, but where to I start? Are there guidelines for helping people with Aphantasia and anxiety? Thanks!!

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Hi. If it helps your client—I’ve been driving for 60 years without being able to visualize, “see” a map in my mind. Don’t know whether related, but I also tend to reverse letters, numbers, words—as well as north-south and east-west. 

My strategies: Ive always memorized commonly used routes and still verbalize landmarks as memory aid. Years ago, I attached a compass on the dashboard—now built in feature.  My first GPS device  liberated me from reliance on paper atlases and fold-out maps, tho those still help me with an overall idea of road systems.  There’s no shame in relying on gps! Figuring out his own mnemonic strategies can help. 

thanks for listening closely to your young client and helping him understand that difference is not disability. 

Hello, I think I have this- well the test said I definitely do since I couldn’t picture anything. Anyway, I was also very anxious about driving (I’m 20 now and I had pre-existing anxiety and depression) since I grew up in a smaller town daily driving was okay but whenever I had to go out of town I started panicking because I couldn’t visualize that inner map. So basically I used my phone’s GPS religiously so I could see until the routes were second nature.

Hi Kathy, I don’t suffer from anxiety, but I’m aphantasic, and don’t like driving to places I’m unfamiliar with, exactly for the reason that I can’t ‘picture’ the route. Even places that I have been to, unless I drive there often, I get a little stressed about the route. I do find that once I’m on my way, I manage to navigate based on my memory. I would say verbal memorisation might help – something like first turn left, carry on for 3 blocks, turn right, etc. And of course just using a map app while driving, especially for places I don’t often go to, that gives me the reassurance that I’m following the right route. I also allow myself more time the first time I’m going somewhere, and if I can, drive there beforehand to become familiar with the route. And for me one of the biggies is following the same route there and back – that helps embed it more. If I’m not familiar with the area, it just adds to my confusion if someone tries to direct me a different way back.

on June 9, 2021

Hi Kathy, you may want to check out the article Discover You: Navigating Therapy and Aphantasia. It was written by one of our science journalists, Harrison Chapman, who is pursuing his doctorate in counseling psychology and is also aphantasic. You can also search “therapy” or “anxiety” in the top right-hand corner, and see all the discussions and articles mentioning these topics!

Yeah. Also no map in my head.

Driving made me nervous for a while- and still does in new areas.

My advice? Have a GPS. Always. And try to repeat that if you miss your turn- you can just keep going and it will re-route you. Or you can always stop and figure it out. A few extra minutes will be wasted- but you’ll be ok.

I really would not ever drive somewhere out side of my small town without a gps.