Understanding Aphantasia and Related Conditions: A Crucial Aspect for Counsellors and Therapists

anauralia aphantasia sdam training for counsellors training for therapists May 10, 2024

In the rich tapestry of human experience, our perceptual abilities play a crucial role in shaping our interactions with the world and ourselves. Among these abilities, the power to summon mental imagery—visualising a sunset, recalling a melody, imagining the scent of a rain-soaked street—is something many of us take for granted. However, for individuals with conditions like aphantasia, Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM), anauralia, and alexithymia, the mental landscape is markedly different. For counsellors and therapists, understanding these differences is not merely an academic concern—it is a vital component of effective practice. This blog delves into why awareness and understanding of these conditions are crucial in therapeutic settings and how a lack of this knowledge can lead to marginalisation, misunderstanding, and ineffective counselling relationships.

The Spectrum of Perceptual and Emotional Differences

Aphantasia is the inability to produce voluntary mental images. While most people can conjure images of past holidays or loved ones' faces with ease, individuals with aphantasia find this mental screen blank. This condition can extend beyond visual imagery to other senses (multi-sense aphantasia), affecting the ability to recall sounds, smells, or tactile sensations.

Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM) refers to a significant difficulty in recalling personal past experiences. Unlike typical memory lapses, SDAM involves an ongoing inability to vividly recollect or re-experience personal events from one's life history.

Anauralia refers to the condition of having a "silent mind," often characterised by the absence of an inner monologue. This condition impacts a person's ability to engage in reflective thinking and can hinder the identification of negative thought patterns, as individuals with anauralia may struggle to "hear" their thoughts in the way others might internally debate or critique themselves.

Alexithymia is characterised by difficulties in identifying and describing one's own emotions, which affects approximately 10% of the population. People with alexithymia often find it hard to recognise their own feelings or articulate them to others, posing distinct challenges in settings where emotional awareness is crucial.

The Importance of Recognising These Conditions in Therapy

The therapeutic setting is predicated on the notion of understanding and empathy—tools that are employed to foster connection and healing. However, a counsellor's effectiveness can be significantly compromised if they operate under assumptions that do not hold true for their client. Here’s why understanding these conditions is essential:

  1. Avoiding Misdiagnosis and Ineffective Interventions

Without a clear understanding of conditions like aphantasia, SDAM, or anauralia, therapists might misinterpret a client's difficulties with internal dialogue as resistance or avoidance, or a more severe cognitive or emotional issue. This misunderstanding can lead to inappropriate interventions that not only fail to address the client's actual needs but may also exacerbate feelings of frustration and isolation.

  1. Facilitating Genuine Empathy and Connection

Empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—is the cornerstone of effective therapy. For clients with conditions like alexithymia and anauralia, expressing and discussing thoughts and emotions can be inherently challenging. Therapists armed with knowledge and understanding of these conditions can adopt strategies that do not solely rely on verbal articulation of thoughts or emotions, such as using more structured and concrete methods of communication.

  1. Ensuring Inclusivity and Avoiding Marginalisation

In a world tailored to the 'neurotypical' majority, individuals with perceptual and emotional differences often find themselves inadvertently marginalised. In therapy, this marginalisation can occur when standard techniques (which assume the ability to visualise, introspect, or internal dialogue) are used without modification. Awareness of these conditions enables therapists to adapt their methods, thereby promoting an inclusive environment that recognises and validates a wider range of human experiences.

  1. Enhancing Therapeutic Efficacy

Understanding conditions like aphantasia or anauralia allows therapists to tailor their approaches, potentially incorporating techniques that focus more on external aids or direct interaction rather than internal dialogue. This bespoke approach not only makes therapy more accessible but also more effective, as interventions are aligned with the client’s perceptual and cognitive landscape.

The Risk of Exclusion and the Power of Inclusion

The consequences of not understanding these differences can be profound. Clients may feel misunderstood—a damaging experience in a setting meant to be safe and validating. They might withdraw from therapy prematurely or avoid it altogether, depriving them of potential support and resolution. Conversely, when therapists are educated about and sensitive to these conditions, clients are more likely to feel understood and supported, fostering a stronger therapeutic alliance, and facilitating more meaningful and effective therapy.


For counsellors and therapists, the journey of professional development includes not only refining techniques but also broadening their understanding of the diverse ways people experience the world. In doing so, they ensure that therapy remains a welcoming place for all, characterised by empathy, adaptability, and inclusiveness. Recognising and understanding conditions like aphantasia, SDAM, anauralia, and alexithymia is not just about enhancing therapeutic practice—it's about affirming the dignity and value of every individual’s mental landscape.

As the field of psychology continues to uncover the vast variations in human perception, the role of the therapist must similarly evolve. By embracing this diversity, therapists not only enhance their practice but also champion a more compassionate and comprehensive approach to mental health care. In the end, effective counselling is not defined by the techniques employed but by the ability to adapt those techniques to meet the unique needs of each client, ensuring that every individual—not just the majority—is seen, heard, and understood.

The Aphantasia Academy Ltd bridges the gap between having an awareness of these conditions and understanding how to adapt approaches to support individuals who have them. Through the lens of lived experience, our training provides professionals with the tools and insights needed to provided an inclusive and effective service.