Written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
Which is your strongest sense? Do you most easily imagine images? Or sounds? Perhaps sensations or emotions? This blog explores some of the many influences that our sensory modality preferences have on hypnosis. We start by considering what those sensory modalities are, and then how to assess them, before covering some of ways in which knowing a client’s sensory modality preference will help you be even more effective as a hypnotist.
For ease of reading, the term ‘client’ will be used throughout this blog, rather than ‘client / participant / subject / volunteer’ and so forth. However, sensory preferences influence a diverse range of applications of hypnosis, including hypnotherapy, street hypnosis, stage/entertainment hypnosis and other uses, such as medical hypnosis and sport hypnosis.
Sensory modality preferences (VAKOG)
Commonly the ‘primary’ senses are considered to be visual (see), auditory (hear) and kinaesthetic (sensations, emotions), with the ‘secondary’ senses being olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste). We tend to abbreviate this to ‘VAKOG’. Whilst the majority of people will be one or more of VAK, some individuals may be much more attuned to either smell or taste and you may find these people take up career paths that make use of this. So, for example, a career in perfume testing might be much more appropriate than a sewage worker role for someone with a sensitive sense of smell.
It is rare that someone will just have access to just one of their senses, although they may be particularly strongly focused on one sense, with others being much less ‘important’. Other people’s sensory preferences may be fairly evenly distributed amongst two or three of the primary sensory modalities.
Assessing VAKOG sensory preferences
There are many different ways in which to assess an individual’s sensory preferences, including conversationally, with quizzes and with suggestibility tests. In conversation, a client’s language will often give clues to their preferences. How may sensory-based words can you spot for each of the examples below?
Visual: It is like I can see myself looking wonderful when I just tone up a bit. I am more aware of noticing the healthy foods when I go shopping and watch out for different coloured fruit and veg as well. I take a peek into the fridge at work and can plainly see how short-sighted some people are about their food choices.
Auditory: Whenever I am in an argument with my partner, I can’t help but listen to the harsh tone in his voice. Sometimes it can only take one remark, or mentioning the wrong thing, and he is as clear as a bell as he describes in detail what I have done wrong; he couldn’t be more outspoken. I do try to tune him out but I still seem to get an earful.
Kinaesthetic: When it boils down it, I am rather an emotional person. I do try to take a firm grip of my emotions, but sometimes the pressure builds until they overflow. Sometimes, simply allowing myself to relax, and let go of tension helps me grasp a stronger sense of control and it certainly seems that stress goes hand-in-hand with feeling things more sensitively.
Olfactory: I was with one of my new colleagues last week in their car last week and what a journey! Their air-freshener was so strong, it was beyond pungent. In fact, I wondered what stink it was that they were trying to cover up, as there was a very odd odour, even with the window open. The scent, which apparently was meant to be ‘apple fresh’ was so strong that even when we went past a waste wagon filled with smelly rubbish (not a mere whiff), it simply went over the top of that scent as though it wasn’t there.
Gustatory: The new flavoursome healthy eating programme is a great way of exploring new tastes and testing flavours. Most of the time it results in tangy and fresh meals and nibbles that I can savour, although occasionally there is a hint or a tinge of something less palatable or a bit of an aftertaste after just one bite, which could be me being too generous with the seasoning. On the whole though, I am relishing the experience.
In whatever context you are interacting with someone (e.g., at work, in your family time, talking with a street hypnosis participant or hypnotherapy client), conversationally assessing someone’s VAKOG sensory preferences comes with practice. The more often you pay attention, the easier it will be to eventually automatically notice. You can also deliberately move conversation towards a covert assessment tool, such as ‘the holiday’. Here you simply ask the person to describe their ideal holiday if they had unlimited time and resources. You can then listen to whether they talk about the sights and scenery (e.g., the calm ocean and bright blue sky), the sounds (such as the gentle lapping of waves against the shore), or even the sensations and emotions present when walking along the soft sandy beach with the cool ocean water lapping over their bare feet.
In a more formal setting, such as a hypnotherapy session or even in a hypnosis research context, you may choose to use a quiz to help you identify the client’s sensory preferences. This may be VAK or the full VAKOG. Hypnotic suggestibility testing is another popular route for assessing VAKOG preferences, whether as the primary intention of the suggestibility test or as a beneficial secondary bonus. A really simple visualisation test is ‘the boat’. Here you simply ask the client to close their eyes and imagine a boat on the ocean. Then tell them to open their eyes and ask them about their experience. This can help you find out whether they are visual (e.g., see boat), auditory (e.g., hear waves lapping), kinaesthetic (e.g., the bobbing on the boat on the waves), olfactory (e.g., the smell of the ocean or wood on the boat), or gustatory (e.g., the taste of the salty air). You can also find out if they are dissociated (in other words seeing the ship from outside) or associated (being on the ship).
A more detailed version of the boat is the lemon suggestibility test. Here you give suggestions for entering a kitchen, selecting a lemon and then cutting the lemon and swallowing some lemon juice (tends to make the mouth water in reality). The lemon suggestibility test is particularly useful as you are able to assess the client’s experience of each of the VAKOG. There are other benefits as well. By discussing the client’s experience, you are able to build rapport, give the client a collaborative experience prior to hypnosis, consider any potential resistance and assess their ability to engage with suggestions.
Here’s a video where you can experience the lemon test for yourself:
With some suggestibility tests there are observable indications, such as the hands moving together for the magnetic hands’ suggestibility test. With other suggestibility tests (e.g., the lemon), they are internal and you will explore the client’s subjective experiences. Not all hypnotherapists or hypnosis performers are familiar with the use of suggestibility tests, although they are well worth exploring, as the information they provide (beyond VAKOG) can considerably influence the effectiveness of your work and suggestibility training can make great CPD as well. For a full range of suggestibility tests, check out our Hypnotic Suggestibility Testing 101 online course:
Hypnosis & hypnotherapy applications for VAKOG
An awareness of someone’s sensory preference can really enhance your communication effectiveness in many areas of your life, whether in your leisure life (e.g., better understanding with friends and family), or your work life. For example, understanding VAKOG can help you to target a sales pitch (such as selling your hypnotherapy services to a prospective client) far more effectively, and can help avoid sensory mismatching. Firstly, it’s important to become aware of your own VAKOG preferences and how you naturally talk about your product or service. Then assess the VAKOG modality preference of the person you are talking with. Notice if their preference is different to yours and change your language to match their sensory preferences. This makes it easier for them to understand and connect to your message. For example,
Visual: I would like you to take a good look at our new device. You will be able to notice how the new design and colour give it a more pleasing appearance.
Auditory: I would like to tell you a little about our new device. This model is now whisper quiet and you can barely hear the soft hum it makes even when running at max capacity.
Kinaesthetic: Let me give you one of our new devices so you can get a feel for it. You can notice how light it now is, with a much smoother surface and yet it has dimpled grips in just the right places so that you can securely hold it.
Generally, an awareness of your VAKOG preferences and of your your recipient’s will enable you to more easily persuade and influence as well as generate and maintain rapport. With hypnosis, being able to rapidly build rapport is essential, yet sensory preference awareness can influence every aspect of your interaction with that individual. For street hypnosis, this is likely to be a shorter experience for the ‘client’, so there is less opportunity to build rapport. Thus, it is helpful keeping more focused around the client’s primary modality preference. However, for both street and stage hypnosis, do remember that not all of the audience will have the same sensory preference. So, to keep them as engaged as possible, do remember to include a wide range of sensory information.
Within hypnotherapy settings, an understanding of sensory preferences (yours and theirs) can positively influence most aspects of a therapy session. During the intake, it can help to build rapport and create a greater sense of collaboration and understanding. It can also help with selection of appropriate hypnosis methods (inductions and deepeners) and therapy techniques. For example, if you have a highly kinaesthetic client, you might do better to use a physical induction, such as the magnetic hands induction, whereas if they are more visual an eye fixation induction may be better received. You may be more selective in your hypnotherapy approaches. However, it is important to offer a balanced range of sensory suggestions, as the client will also be receptive to other types of suggestion, not just their main modality preference. Finally, a sensory awareness can carry through beyond the therapy session itself into your selection and framing of homework tasks and activities, helping a client to better engage with post-session tasks.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on VAKOG, sensory modality preferences, and if you have any more questions about this topic, or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks