Neesa Suncheuri Sunar, LMSW (she/her) is a clinical telehealth therapist licensed in NY state, and specializes in trauma-informed care, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and recovery-oriented methods of rehabilitation. In her therapeutic work, she is dynamically responsive to each client's unique perspective and situation, and strives to offer culturally-competent service in a manner that is meaningful to the client. Neesa has additional expertise in non-clinical peer support methods, as well as community organizing for Mad rights within the NYC area; she infuses these perspectives into her therapeutic work. Neesa also upholds dignity and understanding of the creative mind, given that she herself is a classically-trained violist, violin/viola educator, and writer of articles, essays and poetry. She bears professional competency in all of these creative skills.
Neesa received her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. She also completed comprehensive peer specialist training at Howie the Harp Advocacy Center in Harlem, NYC, and has studied various peer support methods. This includes Intentional Peer Support (IPS), the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), Hearing Voices Network (HVN) group facilitation, Alternatives to Suicide (Alt2Su) group facilitation, and SAMHSA's Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) curriculum.
In years before working as a mental health professional, both in childhood and early adulthood, Neesa focused heavily on classical music endeavors. She earned her Bachelors of Music (BM) degree in viola performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she studied with Yuval Gotlibovich, Atar Arad and Mimi Zweig; she completed additional studies on baroque performance practice with Stanley Ritchie. She participated in a masterclass with Michael Tree, and played in festivals including Round Top Festival Institute, Bloomington Early Music Festival, and chamber music at the New York String Orchestra Seminar. Neesa's performing musical career abruptly ended in 2007, after she developed schizoaffective disorder in graduate school. Following this setback, Neesa reoriented herself as a music educator. She acquired a studio of violin students, and completed three semesteres post-bachelors music education coursework at the Aaron Copland School of Music, and additional music educator training at the NYU Steinhardt Kodály Summer Institute.
As a writer, Neesa is self-taught via her decades-long practice of journaling; she has honed her skills in writing freelance articles on mental health and music-related topics for the past several years. Writing intersects with Neesa's advocacy efforts: many of her articles have been featured on advocacy websites including Mad In America, The Mighty and the Invisible Disability Project. Since 2015, Neesa has maintained a mental health peer support group on Facebook, called "What is Wellness? A Mental Health Discusion Group." She engages in Mad rights advocacy efforts in the NYC area, and has previously participated in peer steering group committees with the NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and legislative events organized by the New York Association of Rehabilitation Psychiatric Services (NYAPRS). Most recently, Neesa writes on topics exploring the intersection of mental health and music, and has had articles published on Psyche and The Strad. She also strives to create awareness about aphantasia, or image-blind/sensory-free thinking. (See the bottom of this page for more information on aphantasia.)
Neesa herself is a childhood trauma survivor who has experienced extensive mental suffering in her own life. She has worked hard to survive and internalize solid coping strategies, which enable her to maintain full-time employment. Her lived experience serves as a strength, giving her expertise and empathy in working with others as a therapist. Neesa upholds utmost respect for each client's cultural back
- Ann Roggen, violist; member of Orchestra of St. Luke's
Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) Poetry Night on June 30, 2022 in Astoria, Queens, NYC, USA
Joe Crow Ryan - Open Mic Host (Emeritus)
Aphantasia is a spectrum neurodiverse condition where one has a blind mind's eye, unable to conjure real-appearing visual imagery in the imagination. The term "aphantasia" was coined in 2015 by Adam Zeman, professor of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the University of Exeter in the U.K. The concept was first described by Aristotle in the 340s BCE, who described internal visual imagery as a sixth sense, called "phantasia." In 1880, Sir Francis Galton conducted an experiment asking participants to first look at a (real) breakfast table, then picture the image in their mind's eye. People reported varying levels of ability to recall the image, indicating that mental imagery occurs on a spectrum. Today, it is estimated that 4% of folks experience aphantasia, significantly diminished or no mental imagery whatsoever. At the other end of the spectrum, 10% to 15% of folks experience hyperrealistic mental imagery, hyperphantasia.
People with aphantasia report other experiences as well, including the inability to identify faces (facial recognition), greater difficulty with recalling memories, difficulty with meditation exercises that require conjuring imagery (guided meditation), difficulty with mental tasks that require spatial awareness (like following directions), reduced ability to project future outcomes in the mind, and reduced ability to read books, especially fiction or writing that has descriptions of visual imagery. While most people with aphantasia can dream visually, some folks (like myself) also do not have sensory dreams. (For me, I wake up with idea of what happened, having never seen it, and I can use words to describe what happened.)
Most people with aphantasia don't realize they have the condition, until they discover that it is even within human capacity to have visual imagery. For me, phrases like "count sheep to fall asleep" simply occurred to me as metaphors, and I had no idea that people actually can picture this! The experience of daydreaming also, people actually see things.
"Multisensory aphantasia" is a term which describes diminished or absent internal imagery in more than one of the five senses. Consider, that internal sensory imagery is not only a visual concept. There is also auditory imagery (the ability to conjure sounds and music in the mind), tactile imagery (recollection of touch and physical sensory experience), olfactory imagery (recollection of smells), and gustatory imagery (recollection of taste, such as foods). Each of these experiences exists on its own spectrum in the same manner as visual imagery. One person may have limited visual imagery, but have hyperrealistic audio imagery.
I am sensory blind in all five senses, which I realized in 2022. I had no idea, that most musicians are able to recreate real-sounding music in their "mind's ear!" I am unable to do this entirely. When I close my eyes and imagine something, I merely see the darkness behind my eyelids. Thoughts occur to me as silent words, or a sense of "knowing" without seeing.
When I disclose my sensory-blind experience to folks, I get a lot of pity, and people immediately ask me how I can possibly live without this sense. Well... it's been there my whole life, and I feel quite the same about how folks can actually see things in their mind's eye? Or hear things in their mind's ear? Like the voice of God? Even as a person with schizoaffective disorder, I have never visually hallucinated anything, and I have only heard an actual voice once in my life. The average undiagnosed person hears internal "voices" or "sounds" more than I do!
Multisensory aphantasia is an underresearched condition, and what I know of it is based on talking to others with aphantasia on Facebook. I now challenge myself to discover new ways of perceiving the world, a way to compensate for what I "lack." My sensitivity to uncomfortable sounds is felt as physical tension in my body. I feel sound in my body, and acoustic sound is more comfortable than electronically-produced resonance. Aversion to electronic music is something I've experienced since childhood.
I hope to create more awareness about this condition. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have a similar experience, or if you would like to interview me about my experience of multisensory aphantasia.