Hakomi Experiential Psychotherapy

The Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a body-centered approach developed by Ron Kurtz, combines somatic awareness with experiential techniques to promote psychological growth and transformation.

Hakomi theory holds the body to be a window to unconscious psychological material, and trained practitioners work to help those in therapy identify somatic indicators of unconscious beliefs and then bring these indicators into awareness, thus aiding the process of change. 

Development of Hakomi Therapy

Hakomi integrates principles of Eastern philosophy, primarily Buddhism and Taoism, emphasizing concepts such as mindfulness, loving presence, and empathyKurtz also incorporated additional influences, such as general systems theory and a range of body-centered therapeutic orientations:

In 1977, Kurtz held the first training in the Hakomi Method. In 1981, Kurtz and a group of therapists and educators established the Hakomi Institute to further develop this mode of therapy and promote the teaching of Hakomi.  In 1990, Kurtz left the Hakomi Institute but continued to refine and expand the original Hakomi Method. Along with a group of colleagues, he founded the Hakomi Education Network, which provides training internationally to those who are interested in the principles of Hakomi.

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Kurtz's book, Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method, provides a detailed overview of Hakomi and outlines the basic principles upon which the Method is built. The Hakomi Institute's professional journal, the Hakomi Forum, continues to expose readers to the practice of Hakomi and to the various ways in which its principles can be applied.

Theory of Hakomi Therapy

According to the Hakomi Method, gestures, posture, facial expressions, and other bodily experiences provide information about a person's core material. This core material can be described as a combination of the images, memories, emotions, and beliefs, even those hidden from awareness, determining a person's individual nature and may also serve to place limits on one's individuality and goals. Through this therapy approach, individuals can eventually develop a clearer understanding of this core material and, with compassionate, gentle assistance from professionals trained in Hakomi, examine, challenge, and ultimately transform any self-defeating beliefs.  

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The Hakomi Method is grounded in five principles: mindfulness, organicity, nonviolence, mind-body integration, and unity. Unlike other types of therapy that utilize mindfulness as part of the process, Hakomi differs from other types of therapy taking a mindfulness-based approach: In Hakomi, nearly the entire therapy process is conducted in mindfulness. This unique aspect helps people in therapy to quickly and safely discover and address unconscious thoughts and beliefs. A main tenet of Hakomi is the body's importance as a resource and its ability to allow the mind to access core material, and some practitioners of Hakomi may use (consensual) touch in the therapy process. 

Core Principles of Hakomi Therapy

Five core principles guide the practice of Hakomi Therapy. 

  • Mindfulness refers to a relaxed, alert state of consciousness characterized by a sustained focus of one's attention inward and a heightened awareness of what is happening in the present. Mindfulness can reduce distraction and quiet the mind, enhancing one’s ability to detect sensations, emotions and thoughts arising in the moment. Unconscious material is typically brought into conscious awareness in this state of mindfulness. ‚Äč
  • Organicity describes individuals as inherently wise living systems capable of self-organization, self-correction, and self-maintenance. According to this premise, each person has an innate capacity to heal, and this capacity includes an inner knowledge of what is needed for healing to occur. The therapist’s role, then, is to facilitate and support an individual’s natural restorative ability as the individual journeys toward wholeness.
  • Nonviolence implies the cooperation between the therapist and the person being helped. The therapist pays close attention to the individual's own innate therapeutic process and allows it to unfold without interfering. Defenses are not viewed as obstacles to be broken down forcefully but are recognized for what they are: reactions enabling individuals to manage (whether by containing, minimizing, or avoiding) their emotional experiences. Therapists offer respect and support instead of challenging defenses, a practice that, according to Hakomi, enables individuals to become better able to work through these defenses. 
  • Mind-body integration is the recognition of mind, body, and spirit as entities that continuously interact and influence each other and a person's beliefs about the self, others, and the world. All three systems are believed to manifest what is experienced by the individual at a given point in time. Core beliefs about the self and the world are therefore reflected not only in one's way of thinking and acting, but in one's physiology and somatic experiences, as well. 
  • Unity describes the Hakomi view that individuals consist of interdependent parts working together for the overall health of the system. The unity principle also assumes individuals to be both interconnected and interdependent. In the therapeutic setting, individuals can be helped to overcome perceived barriers or power imbalances between the self and others, establishing an atmosphere of loving presence and mutuality.

What Happens in a Hakomi Session? 

Hakomi sessions typically follow a sequence: contact, accessing, processing and integration. 

Contact begins in the initial stage of therapy and involves the development and maintenance of a safe and accepting environment in which the individual feels comfortable undertaking the process of self-exploration. Without a sense of safety and trust, individuals may be disinclined to relax their defenses and open themselves up to the vulnerable state of mindfulness.  

Accessing refers to the process by which mindfulness is used to study current experiences and uncover unconscious core material in order to process it and assimilate it into the existing concept of self. According to Hakomi theory, those who become aware of the limitations core material creates in their lives are more likely to experience a conscious desire for change. Hakomi therapists can then help them experientially explore new options.

Those who become aware of the limitations core material creates in their lives are more likely to experience a conscious desire for change. Hakomi therapists can then help them experientially explore new options.

The therapist might initiate this process by asking a person in therapy to close their eyes, turn attention inward and focus on what is happening in the body from moment to moment. Throughout the process, the therapist mindfully observes and supports the unfolding of the individual’s therapeutic process, encouraging the individual to focus on any thoughts, sensations, images, feelings or memories emerging into awareness.

If individuals are willing, their somatic experiences are explored by means of "little experiments," which aim to discover the beliefs they hold about themselves and the world. These experiments often make use of probes, or positive statements conveying an idea exactly opposite to what the person appears to believe. When working with a person who lacks a strong sense of self-worth, a therapist might say, “Just notice what happens when I say ‘You are a valuable person.’” These experiments often trigger memories, sensations, and emotions as direct expressions of core beliefs. These evoked reactions can then be studied in a safe environment. 

Processing involves studying the individual’s experiences and responses to the experiments as well as the exploration of any beliefs and ideas potentially impacting well-being. The therapist typically works with the individual to create new experiences to counteract these beliefs, encouraging the person to discover what feels personally right and true rather than analyzing these beliefs and ideas. Processing often leads to significant insight, transformation, and change. The internal wisdom of the person in therapy is emphasized. 

Integration occurs toward the end of a session as the therapist helps the individual to make sense of what was experienced during the session. The therapist also helps the individual make connections between experiences during the session and life outside of therapy.

The Use of Touch in Hakomi Therapy

Unlike traditional forms of psychotherapy, Hakomi may involve consensual touch from the therapist to the individual seeking therapy. When painful or traumatic memories arise, a soft touch or a gentle hand on the shoulder might help comfort the individual in therapy and encourage the person to stay with the experience. Touch may also be used in support of the individual's management behaviors (defenses). Describing a particular memory may lead an individual to cover their face with their hands, and a Hakomi therapist may support this gesture by placing hands over the individual's, thus helping to keep the person's face covered. Supporting management behaviors in this way can encourage the individual to venture deeper into the internal experience. Not all Hakomi therapists employ touch in their technique, although it is viewed as an acceptable practice in therapy. Those who do first obtain the consent of the individual in treatment. 

Issues Treated with Hakomi Therapy

This approach is more often used to by individuals wishing to achieve personal growth than individuals seeking treatment for specific mental health concerns. However, the principles of Hakomi can be adapted for use in most therapeutic encounters. Although research is still limited, Hakomi has been shown to be effective at treating mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). It has also been employed, with positive results, in the treatment of unresolved trauma

Although initially conceptualized as an individual psychotherapy, Hakomi approaches have been developed for use with couples, families and groups. The principles of Hakomi have also been incorporated into other professions and practices such as bodywork, pastoral counseling, coaching, mediation, conflict resolution, business, parenting, and theater.

Training for Hakomi Therapists

The Hakomi Institute offers a variety of workshops and training programs to those interested in the practice of Hakomi. Workshops are designed to provide a general introduction to Hakomi and are often structured around a particular aspect of the Hakomi Method, such as loving presence or mindfulness. 

The Institute also provides training programs to professionals interested in incorporating Hakomi in their practices. Training programs focus specifically on the Hakomi Method and not on psychotherapy as a whole or on the treatment of specific conditions.

Three categories of training are provided by the Institute:

  1. The Comprehensive Training program lasts for two years and is designed for professionals and graduate students involved in psychotherapy, counseling, social work, and related areas. This program exposes individuals to the complete Hakomi Method and can lead to certification. Individuals who successfully complete this program receive a diploma identifying them as Hakomi graduates.
  2. Professionals Skills Training is a shorter program designed to teach specific skills rather than the entire Hakomi Method. It is open to the same group of people as the Comprehensive Training program.
  3. Hakomi for Bodyworkers Training is specifically designed for bodyworkers desiring to incorporate Hakomi techniques into their practice. 

Those who wish to obtain official certification after completing training must take an additional step to demonstrate competency in the Hakomi Method. Two trainers from the Hakomi Institute will observe, in person or through video, the individual performing a complete Hakomi session with two different individuals. Individuals who demonstrate the required level of expertise are certified; those who do not are given recommendations on how to improve so they can reapply in the future. Those who achieve certification are recognized either as Certified Hakomi Therapists (CHT) or Certified Hakomi Practitioners (CHP). The CHT designation is applied to those individuals who are involved in the field of psychotherapy, while the CHP title applies to those who utilize Hakomi skills in one or more related fields. 

The International Hakomi Educational Network also offers training in what is known as the Refined Hakomi Method. This training is open to those involved in the helping professions, as well as people in other fields who are interested in the process of self-exploration and personal growth. The programs offered range from workshops centered on basic principles and practices of Hakomi to a lengthier modular program leading to certification. Official certification is granted to those who demonstrate competency in the Hakomi Method and wish to integrate Hakomi into a therapeutic profession.

Limitations of Hakomi Therapy

Because the Hakomi Method is grounded in the exploration of and cooperation with the unconscious self, Hakomi may be contraindicated in some instances. This method may cause overwhelm in some of those who are actively experiencing trauma and and/or who have underdeveloped psychological structures, as Hakomi could impact the original defense mechanisms and coping skills used by these individuals to allow them to function. Hakomi therapy may not be recommended for some individuals with traits of borderline personality or narcissism, for example.

Research on the method is still limited, and future studies may lend more support to the efficacy of this method. 

References:

  1. Chaitow, L. (2008). Modalities, methods and techniques. In L. Chaitow's (Ed.), Naturopathic physical medicine: Theory and practice for manual therapists and naturopaths (pp. 197-298). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Limited. 
  2. Günther, U. (2006). Hakomi: strengths and limitations. Hakomi Forum, (16-17), 35-42. Retrieved from http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Forum/Issue16-17/4_HugoTransUta.pdf
  3. Kurtz, R. (n.d.). Explaining the refined method. Retrieved from http://hakomi.com/history/basics-of-refined-hakomi
  4. Kurtz, R. (2009). History of the Hakomi method. Retrieved from http://hakomi.com/history
  5. Rothaus, M. E. (2014). Hakomi and art therapy. In L. Rappaport’s (Ed.), Mindfulness and the arts therapies: theory and practice (pp. 208-218). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  6. The Hakomi Institute. (n.d.). Trainings in the Hakomi method of experiential psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Workshops/pdfs/HakomiTrainingBROCH.pdf

 

Last updated: 04-08-2016

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