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From Head to Heart: A Primer for Hakomi Therapy

Man holding heart shape on chest

“It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.” —Henry David Thoreau

Hakomi therapy studies your organization of present experience. As such, it can be considered both a top-down and bottom-up approach. In simple terms, this suggests observation and exploration of both head and body. While some clients feel entirely comfortable in their bodies, others feel separate from body—feeling shame and expecting judgment for lack of bodily awareness or for physical appearance.

Approaching body-based work, for someone reliant on intellect and analysis, may trigger fear of being seen as more than a mind—being judged for appearance or for unconscious behaviors—areas where confidence remains low or nonexistent. Someone may fear being seen and met behind physical masks or practiced verbal filters. Many dread meeting a new therapist, not knowing what the unwritten rules might be and expecting judgment, constriction, or reduction of self.

Risks and Requirements of People in Hakomi Therapy

What risks exist in therapy? This depends on the person in therapy, the therapist, expectations of the other, judgment of self and/or other. While few interactions could be considered entirely safe, many people come to therapy in a position of vulnerability. Relational trauma is not rare, and approaching any authority figure to present needs could potentially trigger a variety of uncomfortable states.

This is all about safety.

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It is important that you, as someone in therapy, understand this: Your therapy is yours. The principles of Hakomi honor you at your core, and the goal is to allow you to unfold and grow organically at your own pace.

Physical touch is not required. In fact, nothing is actually required. Ideally, the therapist presents options, clarifies potential options, presents ideas for experiments, reads you, seeks consent. While physical experiments sometimes bring immediate results, there are many paths to the same destination, and many therapists will simply explore different paths with you.

To reiterate, body-based therapy does not require physical touch or physical action on your part. If you do choose to move in some physical way, movement need not be visible to anyone else. The purpose of an experiment is often just to notice internal response to micromovement or to the most minute sensation of movement.

Risks are inherent in life, and much of therapy may be focused around the balance between challenge and support. Hakomi tends to err on the side of support, tracking your full experience and identifying your internal resources to provide a sense of an internal home-base. From that home-base, the freedom to explore is yours.

A Full-Bodied Life

“You cannot transcend what you do not know. To go beyond yourself, you must know yourself.” – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

The brain, for many, is a refuge. For a child experiencing infinite combinations of sensory signals, life can become overwhelming. Some children grow up with parents that are attuned to them—empathic, ready, patient, and nonjudgmental. Some children feel the security of the other—maybe a parent, as a mentor, as a home base—someone to help in naming physical senses and teaching safe, healthy, effective ways to handle those feelings.

For many, or most, this is not the case. The body becomes overwhelming, makes us “weak.” Metaphorically (sometimes physically evident) we become walking heads. We build armor and defense. We find it effective, and it keeps harm out. At the same time, it deflects new, good, positive information and continuously recreates familiar patterns.

Hakomi provides that hard-to-imagine safe place. The principles of Hakomi allow a certain culture in the therapy room: peace, curiosity, experimentation, alliance, non-attachment, non-judgment, flexibility, softness, freedom, exploration. We are simply observing and honoring. The therapist has no agenda. The compassionate, constructive model of Hakomi renders “pathology” just another judgment, separate from self.

We are each making sense of this world through our own body, looking out through our own eyes, organizing our personal experience of self and connecting to the other.

This is universal. This is freedom. Expansion.

References:

  1. Siegel, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation. New York: Bantam Books.
  2. Kurtz, R. (1990). Body-centered psychotherapy: the Hakomi method : the integrated use of mindfulness, nonviolence, and the body. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm.
  3. Lewis, T., Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.

© Copyright 2014 by Jeremy McAllister, MA, LPCI, therapist in Portland, OR. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Brooks June 12th, 2014 at 2:08 PM #1

    To be comfortable with who you are but not what you are seems very strange to me, like I don’t get how there can be that disconnect that so many experience.

  • Myra June 14th, 2014 at 5:13 AM #2

    My hope would be that for anyone who is currently in therapy that they are receiving the message that not only is this life their own, but this whole process is theirs and no one else’s and that this should never have to be put up against what anyone ele is facing. Remain true to yourself and you will find yourself in all of this.

  • Cameron June 16th, 2014 at 4:13 AM #3

    I get the sense that a lot of what this is based on is the theory that to become better you have to know where and what you are today and move forward from that point.
    There is no improvement, there is no moving up and moving forward until you know exactly what and where that starting point for today is.
    With that being said, for me it seems that this is allabout having a much stronger sense of self, becoming more aware of who we really are and what we want to choose to do with this beautiful life which we have been given.

  • Virginia June 18th, 2014 at 2:00 PM #4

    So it sounds like a lot of this therapy is going to be very flexible and very much designed to meet the specific needs of the person in therapy, like some of this will be very fluid as the journey progresses

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