Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy: An Introduction

An empty wooded chair sits on a wooden dock as the sun sets over a lake.There are so many wonderful things about Hakomi that it is impossible to address them all in one article. Instead, I would like to speak a bit about what makes it so special.

First, a little clarification. Hakomi is a mindfulness-based, body-centered form of psychotherapy. In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in mindfulness and in the role of the body in psychotherapy. But not all therapies that use mindfulness or body-centered approaches are alike. In my experience, Hakomi’s approach to the use of mindfulness and to the body is unique in the field. For example, Hakomi uses a more active, meaning-seeking form of mindfulness than do most other therapies that incorporate elements of mindfulness meditation. Also, in Hakomi, both the client and the therapist ideally spend the majority of each session in a state of mindfulness. Hakomi may be one of the only approaches to explicitly use this state as a prerequisite to working with the body. Hakomi is also one of the more established of these approaches; it was developed by Ron Kurtz in the 1970s and has been steadily gaining popularity ever since.

The thing that I find most compelling about Hakomi is that it is grounded in a set of relational principles, as opposed to a psychological theory. These principles set the stage for a relationship between the client and the therapist that provides safety and creates the ground for self-discovery. They are rooted in the traditions of Buddhism and Taoism, without imposing any spiritual or religious requirements. The five principles are: mindfulness, nonviolence, organicity, unity, and body-mind-spirit holism.

Although Hakomi’s first allegiance is to the principles, it is not without theory. Hakomi therapists draw from a few major areas of theory.

One of these is systems theory, which has to do with ideas about how complex systems—such as human beings—grow and change (or don’t). Another is character theory, which has to do with ideas about how aspects of our character or personal style develop and why. A third has to do with the conditions necessary to befriend unconscious parts of our experience; a fourth has to do with the role of bodily experience (sensations, images, etc.) in helping to bring these parts of our experience into awareness.

The principles and theories just described come together beautifully in the Hakomi method. Part of Ron Kutz’s genius, I believe, was the development of a unique set of tools or techniques that bring both the principles and theory to life in a therapy session. By this I mean that the method—the activity of the therapy session—is an expression of both the gentleness and respect inherent in the principles, and the ideas about how people work, that are expressed in the theory. This congruence gives a seamless quality to the experience.

© Copyright 2009 by Jaffy Phillips, MA. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Murphy

    October 16th, 2009 at 3:12 AM

    Although I knew a little about Hakomi, I never thought the idea behind it is so deep…it is very fascinating to know that not just the person getting the therapy but even the therapist gets involved equally into it!

  • Darren

    October 16th, 2009 at 3:20 AM

    Being in a state of mindfulness is extremely useful for therapy, but many unqualified therapists use this term very loosely in order to draw the crowds…Hakomi is a wonderful technique and its use should only be encourared more in today’s time of tension and depression.

  • Buffy

    October 16th, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    Can a person who has a psychological problem related to a childhood event be treated through Hakomi? Please suggest, as my cousin is unable to recover…

  • Abraham

    October 16th, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    I think one of the reasons Hakomi works so well is because of the deep involvement of the therapist… If every medical practitioner decides to get equally involved, there will be people curing much faster everywhere.

  • Jaffy Phillips

    October 26th, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    Dear Buffy,

    In response to your question: yes, many people do use Hakomi therapy as a means to help resolve current problems that are related to childhood experiences. This is one of the main things that it is designed to accomplish. However, Hakomi may not always be the best approach for a specific person, depending on some of the specific details of their situation and also to some degree on the experience of the therapist.

    If this is something that your cousin is interested in, I’d recommend that s/he interview with several therapists, including one or more Hakomi therapists, and see what feels like the best fit. (There is information available on this site (under the “Find a Therapist” heading, I believe) about things to consider when looking for a therapist.)

  • Gwockie

    September 20th, 2016 at 5:34 PM

    I have only just become aware of the Hakomi approach. I understand its origin lay in Buddhism.
    I am interested in speaking to anyone who uses this approach in their therapy, but who also has a Christian belief system. I’m interested in how they integrate the two without compromising Biblical teaching on mindfulness. Thanks for furthering my understanding.

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