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Why is guided smell training better than learning the method by yourself? 

By Chris Kelly, Founder, AbScent 


A couple of things stick out in my mind when I think about my first experiences with smell training, even back before I knew what it really was.  

On the first occasion, I was at my ear, nose and throat (ENT) appointment for my second Sniffin’ Sticks test, nine months after a virus stole my sense of smell. This test consists of over 100 sticks with caps on them. They look a lot like felt tip pens, and the nurse waves them in front of your nose while you wear an eye mask. At the first test, I could not smell anything at all. The second test though was so exciting! I could actually smell something, though nothing was recognisable. I remember thinking, “I want to stay here all day long and be tested by this nurse. I want to sit and smell and smell and smell everything in this lab”. Just the thought of having a go at all those things that I was starting to be able to smell - it felt wonderful. Joyful even. 

The second event that made a big impression on me was sitting in a perfumer’s lab, looking at the hundreds of bottles of ingredients. I was with another anosmic, and we were trying out smells just for fun. I recognised that part of the excitement came from exploring the smells together, and being able to discuss them. There was something very connecting about it. So important when anosmia can be so socially isolating. 

Here is an observation I can make about the people who come to me for individual smell training: when they come in twos, they have to swap perfumers’ strips back and forth (actually, I get in on the act too, and smell everything before I pass it on). The act of smelling, which is so enriching and mind-expanding, and horrible when it’s gone (as we all know too well) also becomes a deeply social experience when done together. The next time you get to a ‘smelling’ event, and I hope you find one near you some day, observe this happening. Watch people put their heads together, swap reactions, and acknowledge each other.  

Here is another observation from my experience with helping people understand smell training. Without exception, everyone overestimates just how dysfunctional they are. During guided smell training, I can almost always help people connect with a level of smell awareness they didn't realise they had before. Learning to tune in to this is an important step in understanding smell training. 

So, tell me, what can you smell? 

From time to time I offer smell training events both in the UK and elsewhere. What can you expect when you come? Here is a list of topics I will cover: 

  • Self-assessment and why it is so important 
  • Definitions: retro/orthonasal olfaction, and the trigeminal response 
  • Taste vs smell 
  • Developing the right vocabulary to discuss smell. Why is this so hard? How can we make it easier? (includes a demonstration/exercise) 
  • Understanding the process of smell training, and what it shares with the practice of mindfulness 
  • What I mean when I say, “Don’t get into a discussion with yourself when you are smell training” 
  • “Peering” into smell 
  • Sniffing techniques 
  • A sniff of everything in my smell library, good smells as well as smelly smells 
  • A talk about diary keeping, and why it is as important as self-assessment 
  • Learn how to make a smell kit to take home, using anything from the library that you choose 
  • Plus of course plenty of discussion! 

It can be hard to get the knack of smell training, and many people would benefit from understanding more about how it works as they try to motivate themselves. Every case of smell loss is different, and everyone will respond differently to smell training. 

March 17, 2017