The Hakomi Method

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Intro to the Hakomi Method

Often in life, we find ourselves at the mercy of behaviors or thought processes that do not serve us, both in the context of our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. We may, for example, find ourselves having the same arguments with a loved one or challenges at work, having the same reactions in certain situations, only to wish later that we had acted differently at the moment. Or perhaps we have other long-term personal habits that do not serve us. Such experiences can leave us feeling confused, disempowered, and need understanding and resolution. The Hakomi Method is a method of personal growth to address such experiences through mindfulness and somatic (i.e., body-based) practices. 

The objective of Hakomi is to help people experience, understand, and shift what they are doing to reduce what the method calls “unnecessary suffering.” By incorporating their mind, body, and emotions in the therapeutic process of “talking less and feeling more,” Hakomi guides the individual to listen to, discover, and understand. With this new awareness and self-knowledge, one should, ultimately, be able to make more empowered choices and have more fulfilling relationships and life experiences. 

Origins of Hakomi

The Hakomi Method was founded in the late 1970s by an American psychologist, Ron Kurtz (1934-2011). Kurtz developed Hakomi amidst a trend in western therapy in which practitioners were shifting away from psychiatry and analytical psychology and towards relational, body-centered approaches. Kurtz’s particular interest was exploring the psyche and understanding how people are ‘organized’ within themselves, how and why they have learned to adapt and respond to the external world, and how those adaptations show up in the body.

In formulating the Hakomi Method, Kurtz integrated diverse ideas, philosophies, and modalities. He was heavily influenced by the ideas of eastern traditions, primarily the Buddhist and Taoist tenets of mindfulness, loving presence, non-violence, and compassion. He was also inspired by various western approaches to psychology, systems theory, and body-centered therapy, integrating their theories and practices into his method, including:

Gestalt Therapy | Psychomotor therapy | Reichian breathwork | Feldenkrais method | Focusing | Bioenergetic analysis | Structural bodywork | Neuro-linguistic Programming | Eriksonian hypnosis | The work of Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen 

In collaboration with a core group of his senior students, Kurtz established The Hakomi Institute in 1981. The Hakomi Institute is a non-profit educational institute, which aims to develop and promote the Hakomi Method and its teachings. 

The name “Hakomi” was inspired by a dream of one of Kurtz’s colleagues. It is an indigenous Hopi word meaning “Where do I stand in relation to the many realms?” Kurtz felt this perfectly captured the spirit of their work – “a healing method devoted to transforming core beliefs adversely affecting peoples’ relationships with themselves, others and the world at large” (in recent years, the debate has arisen as to whether the Hopi community approved the use of the name or if its use is cultural appropriation from the Native American culture. The Hakomi Institute has acknowledged and addressed this issue on their website.)

Kurtz parted ways with The Hakomi Institute in 1990 and established The Hakomi Education Network. There he continued his work of refining and teaching his evolving method until his death in 2011. 

Summary of Hakomi: What is Hakomi?

Hakomi Theory

Hakomi is a somatic psychotherapy rooted in the idea that the body is an expression of the mind and that our life experiences and beliefs are reflected not only in our way of thinking and acting but in our physiology. In Hakomi, the therapist reads the client’s bodily movements, gestures, and postures for indications of their unconscious “core material.” That is, beliefs, memories, or emotions based on past experiences, which may no longer be true, yet continue to shape their habits, behaviors, perceptions, and attitudes that may cause what Kurtz deemed “unnecessary suffering.” Through “mindfulness-based assisted self-discovery,” the method aims to discover what the body knows and bring the unconscious into consciousness. In doing so, the individual can understand and transform how they are “organized,” thereby allowing them to make more educated, responsive choices to live a more empowered and fulfilling life.  

Many psychological theories, including Hakomi, propose that core material is stored away in the unconscious to protect the individual from the pain or trauma it is associated with. Thus, it needs to be approached and processed with gentleness and compassion. Mindful attention and loving presence, as embodied by the therapist, are therefore key to the success of the process. Loving presence cultivates “limbic resonance” between the therapist and client, encouraging the client to feel trust, respected, validated, and safe to be fully present in the moment. Consequently, they are better able to address any arising unconscious material. In the practice of loving presence, the client’s defenses or behaviors are not obstacles to be broken down or overcome but are accepted as natural adaptive mechanisms of containing, minimizing, and/or avoiding that allows the individual to manage their emotional experiences. 

The 5 Principles

Hakomi is grounded in 5 core principles:

  1. Mindfulness: Relaxed, non-judgemental conscious attention to present moment experience and observation of the self just as they are.

  2. Non-violence: The principle of “do no harm.” A commitment to respect and loving presence. The therapist is compassionate and gentle with the client, and the client is compassionate and gentle with themselves. 

  3. Unity: The principle that all living beings are interdependent and part of a greater whole. Likewise, individuals are made up of interdependent parts that work together to create a healthy system. This concept supports the individual in overcoming perceived barriers within themselves and between themselves and others.

  4. Organicity: The principle that conditions are perfect for what wants to happen at any given moment. An appreciation of the natural organic unfolding of things, allowing for safety, pacing, and trust in the process of healing. 

  5. Mind-Body Holism: The recognition that body and mind are continuously interacting and influencing each other and having an equal impact on well-being and an equal role in personal healing and transformation. 


Sensitivity Cycle 

The Sensitivity Cycle illustrates how individuals perceive, process, and enact their experiences. However, due to limiting beliefs, we often get stuck somewhere along the way. Therefore, the Hakomi therapist’s role is to facilitate the individual in flowing through the complete cycle and thereby fully process and benefit from their experiences and live more skillfully. 

There are 4 Phases in the cycle:

  • Clarity: Knowing yourself and what you need. This clarity empowers you to take effective action.

  • Action: Using your clarity to express yourself and enact positive change confidently. 

  • Satisfaction: The result of effective action; a feeling of satisfaction and nourishment.

  • Rest: Releasing the action and integrating your experience through rest and mindfulness.


The Missing Experience

The “Missing Experience” is another key concept in Hakomi therapy. If the memory of an experience pains an individual, it is an indication that there was an emotional need that was not met at the time. Hakomi recognizes that this missing experience is also likely experienced as missing in the present moment and may negatively impact how the individual organizes themselves in the world. What was missing was likely an emotionally nourishing experience such as safety, contact, or comfort. Facilitated by the therapist through emotional and/or physical containment and support, the individual can connect to that missing experience and begin to heal.

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Research & Science Supporting Hakomi

Research and clinical studies into IFS therapy is still in a very preliminary stage, although there are a few studies which deserve mention.

There is little in the way of formal research or scientific studies on the Hakomi Method, but the following research papers and dissertations may be of interest:

Mindfulness and Renowned Research (2002), Halko Weiss 
https://hakomiinstitute.com/Resources/halko.html

A Descriptive Study on the Differences Between Body Psychotherapists and Traditional Counselors (2005)

Stephanie L. Rauch, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Charlotte 
https://hakomiinstitute.com/Resources/research/Rauch-disseration.doc

Listening to the Body: Three Pragmatic Case Studies of Body-Centered Psychotherapy (2006), Amelia Kaplan, Psy.M.
https://hakomiinstitute.com/Resources/research/Kaplan-Dissertation.pdf

Hakomi: Strengths & Limitations: Indications and Contraindications for the Use of Hakomi with Clients with Significant Clinical Disturbances (2006), Uta Günther (Translator: Hugo Schielke)
http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Forum/Issue16-17/4_HugoTransUta.pdf

The Seeker Experience

The therapist may open with some simple questions about why you are there and what you are anticipating. However, they are likely to focus more on listening and observing over questioning or structured conversation. Having listened and observed, the therapist will share their reflections and find something that the client would like to self-study. For example, the therapist may observe how the client moves and question what those movements reveal about their subconscious personal patterns, emotions, and beliefs. Then, through the practice of “experiments” (see below) and evoking memory, the therapist helps the client uncover, understand, and shift their limiting beliefs and establish new beliefs and experiences. Throughout this process, the therapist will sit with the client in a state of loving presence.

The Flow of Steps

Just as each therapist and client are unique, so too is each Hakomi session unique. However, the therapeutic process always follows a specified structure:

  1. Establish a relationship with the client 
  2. Create a sense of safety within the relationship and within the client
  3. Elicit mindfulness
  4. Create experiments to evoke core material (memories, images, beliefs, neural patterns, and deeply held emotional dispositions)
  5. Reveal core material
  6. Engage in state-specific processing  
  7. Transform limiting beliefs 
  8. Integrate new beliefs and behavior
  9. Complete session

The 3 Phases

The Flow of Steps can be summarized as three key phases of the Hakomi therapeutic process:

  1. The Preparation Phase: The therapist and client build a relationship, a “therapeutic alliance.” Through observation and listening, the therapist begins to identify the unconscious patterns that the client may want to explore and self-study.
  2. The Assisted Self-Study Phase: Through an experiment, information is gathered. The objective is to gain insight into how the client organizes themselves and how their core belief negatively impacts them.
  3. The Healing Phase: Working to repair and shift the unconscious material and core beliefs and establish new experiences.

     

An Example of a Self-Study Experiment:

Experiments begin with the therapist inviting the client to their close eyes, turn their attention inward to what is happening within their body (e.g., breath, movements, heart rate, tension). The therapist will observe as the client does this, offering support with any emotions or sensations that emerge. Then, with the client’s consent, the therapist will start to implement “experiments.” Experiments are statements or probes designed to trigger a client’s feelings, sensations, and memories that directly reflect their self-limiting core beliefs (e.g., “you are not safe” or “you are not valuable”). The therapist will then inquire how those statements make the client feel, and those evoked reactions can then be studied and replaced with new experiences. After an experiment, the therapist will help the client understand what they experienced and integrate it, along with any new beliefs, into their everyday lives. 

Touch

A Hakomi session may involve consensual, gentle, non-invasive touch that is considered a key part of the healing process. Touch may help the client stay present and supported in the moment, feel comforted (often a “missing experience”), deepen their experience, or support their behaviors or defenses. Not all Hakomi therapists apply touch, but those who do are trained to obtain the client’s consent before they do so.

Finding a Guide & Guide Perspectives

Hakomi practitioners come from a wide range of medical and therapeutic professions, including psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, coaches, medics, yoga teachers, and other holistic practitioners.  

There are two types of certifications:

  1. Certified Hakomi Therapists (C.H.T.) 
  2. Certified Hakomi Practitioners (C.H.P.)

There is no license required to practice Hakomi.

Things to consider when choosing a Hakomi therapist:

  • What level of certification do they hold? 
  • Is Hakomi the central modality of their practice? What other modalities inform their practice? 
  • Hakomi therapists are not necessarily clinically trained, so if you have a specific psychological issue, you may want to inquire if the therapist has other training for that issue?
  • When seeking therapy for couples and children, you may want to choose a specifically trained practitioner in those fields. 

Potential Drawbacks/Criticisms

In recent years, alongside the current trend in somatic therapies, the Hakomi Method has grown in popularity. However, Hakomi may not be for everyone. Therefore, it is worth considering the following potential challenges and drawbacks to engaging in the method before committing: 

Hakomi is a specialized field and may require more financial investment than conventional approaches.

The therapist-client relationship is key to the success of the method. The client should be comfortable working closely with their therapist and developing a therapeutic alliance.

The Hakomi Method was developed as a way of living. Therefore, a willingness to commit to long-term personal growth and self-development from the outset may be beneficial to making progress. 

The Hakomi Method may not be the best option for people with clinical conditions. While Hakomi therapists adhere to a strict code of conduct, they are not necessarily clinically trained, although some clinically trained mental healthcare providers may also be trained in Hakomi.  

The Hakomi approach to psychotherapy is body-centered and experiential, and it incorporates the use of touch. As such, it might not be suitable for someone for whom contact-oriented therapies could lead to triggering or re-traumatization. 

Works Cited

Hakomi Institute:
https://hakomiinstitute.com

Hakomi Institute of California:
https://www.hakomica.org/

Hakomi Education Network:
https://hakomieducationnetwork.org/

Ron Kurtz Hakomi Education Network:
https://hakomi.com/

Introduction to the Hakomi Method with Ron Kurtz | interview with Patrice Hamilton (Jan 23, 2012)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcRda7-tsXU&ab_channel=ronk1934

Good Therapy | Principles of Hakomi Body-Centered Therapy | by Jaffy Phillips, MA (Nov 16, 2009)
https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/principles-of-hakomi-body-centered-therapy/

Hakomi Education Network: The 5 Principles Of Hakomi | Donna Martin And Georgia Marvin (Apr 8, 2018)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nPB5G9I3kg&ab_channel=RonKurtzHakomiInternational

An Introduction to the Hakomi Education Network | With Donna Martin and Georgia Marvin (Apr 8, 2018)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMym6HpSO-E&ab_channel=RonKurtzHakomiInternational