Principles of Hakomi Body-Centered Therapy

An abstract side view of a head with a tree-like spine connecting into the brain.Prospective clients often ask what first drew me to study Hakomi Experiential Psychotherapy. My answer: the principles. (And a touch of fate or providence.)

I first encountered Hakomi by way of a lucky accident. Someone left a copy of Ron Kurtz’s book Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method on a windowsill in a house I moved into. I quickly read it from cover to cover. As a body-worker, at the time, I was interested in the relationship between body and mind, but the main thing that kept me reading was the chapter about the principles. As I read it, I felt myself relax and settle in. I felt a sense of relief, like a big exhale: finally, something that made sense to my heart! It was like the feeling of coming home after a long time away.

What makes the principles so special? The principles demonstrate a respect for the human spirit and our capacity for awareness, learning, and integrity that I find truly heartening. And the principles set the stage for a relationship between client and therapist, providing elements that are critical to any process of self-discovery and inner transformation: curiosity, awareness, and dignity.

You’ll read the word “awareness” a lot in the following paragraphs. Awareness is an important concept in Hakomi therapy, and it is fundamental to the effectiveness of the work, so I’ll take a moment to explain it here. As living human beings, we are all endowed with the capacity for awareness—the capacity to notice what is going on around us and inside of us—and to make use of that information. However, most of us do not use this capacity to its full extent. For most of us, our capacity for awareness is much greater than we typically experience in daily life.

When we access or use more of our awareness, new things become possible. A simple example of this is learning: learning something new is a process of increasing our awareness that then enables us to do something we couldn’t do before. The same is true in the human psyche. When we increase our awareness of the subtleties of our internal experiences, and the relationships between them, new things become possible. In an awareness-based therapy like Hakomi, some of the new things that typically become possible include increased self-acceptance, a greater sense of freedom and choice in relationships, and the reintegration of aspects of our selves or our experience from which we have been disconnected.

There are five Hakomi principles: organicity, mindfulness, nonviolence, mind-body holism, and unity. These are rooted in Taoism and Buddhism, but Hakomi does not impose or require any spiritual practice or affiliation. Below is a brief description of each principle, along with some examples of the roles they play in Hakomi therapy.

Organicity

The principle of organicity comes from organic systems theory, which recognizes that living systems, such as people, are creative, self-organizing, and self-directed. In Hakomi, the organicity principle recognizes the value of supporting and working in alignment with this intelligence in the person’s system. A therapist acting in accordance with this principle has a deep faith in the client’s own inner-healing abilities. One way that this shows up in Hakomi therapy is that the therapist, ideally, does not impose a structure or agenda on the session or on the person’s process. Instead, the therapist finds ways to acknowledge and support the person’s own emerging self-direction. Another way that this shows up in a session is that the therapist does not interpret the person’s experience for him or her. Rather, the person is supported to discover and create his or her own meaning.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has a long history in meditative traditions, as both a path toward and a state of increased awareness. Mindfulness appears in Hakomi as both a principle and a state of consciousness. Both client and therapist ideally spend a large portion of the session in a state of mindfulness—paying close attention to the person’s present-moment experience. As a principle, mindfulness underscores the value of this present-moment awareness, and holds open the doors of possibility for all that can happen when this awareness is present. A therapist working from this principle has faith in the value of subtle aspects of the person’s experience, and in the transformative potential of awareness itself. We see this principle in action when a Hakomi therapist chooses to work from a state of mindfulness. It is also evident in the therapist’s genuine interest in the person’s present experience, and support of the inherent value in exploring that experience.

Nonviolence

Like mindfulness, the concept of nonviolence also has a long history in numerous traditions. As a Hakomi principle, non-violence is a subtle concept, closely related to organicity and mindfulness. The principle of organicity, as described above, implies that living organisms are sensitive to the quality of their environment. Put another way, the creativity and self-organizing intelligence in each of us responds appropriately (intelligently) to different sets of conditions. If we want to support and engage a person’s inner, self-organizing intelligence, it is important to provide an environment of acknowledgement and respect. Providing a different kind of environment is likely to cause them to check out or disengage. From this perspective, common therapist behaviors, such as labeling a person’s behavior as “defensive” or interrupting a person to pursue the therapist’s agenda, can be considered a subtle form of violence. This is because the behavior sends a negative message to the person about their internal intelligence.

Conversely, the Hakomi principle of nonviolence endorses behaviors and attitudes that acknowledge and support the client’s internal intelligence. A therapist working from this principle will believe that, however ‘problematic’ that person may appear, a person’s style and internal organization (e.g., style of expression and belief system) are the result of an intelligent and necessary process of adaptation to whatever difficult circumstances the person has previously encountered. We see this principle in action when therapists trust their clients to know what is best for them, and refrain from labeling the person or their behavior. We see it when therapists hold their theories lightly and are ready to let the person be the expert about their own experience and its meaning. And we see it in therapists who embrace the principles of organicity and mindfulness and thus are able to let the person’s subjective experience guide the work of the session, rather than imposing their own ideas.

Mind-Body Holism

The interconnectedness of mind and body has gotten a lot of popular press recently, and has even been the subject of some scientific research. In Hakomi, the concept of mind-body holism refers to the relationships and internal associations between the loosely defined categories of mental experiences (thoughts, memories, beliefs) and bodily experiences (images, sensations, emotions). As a principle, mind-body holism points to the value of studying the mind-body interface as a means of learning about and communicating with a person’s inner intelligence. This inner intelligence often operates outside of a person’s conscious awareness and may express itself nonverbally; directing attention to present-moment bodily experience can provide an effective means of making contact with it. A therapist working from this principle will believe in the value of exploring this interface in order to expand a person’s awareness and invoke the potential for healing that accompanies this expansion. In a session, this therapist will assist the client to explore any meaning associated with particular aspects of their experience, such as images or sensations, or, conversely, to explore the present-moment bodily experiences that accompany certain topics, beliefs, or memories.

Unity

Like mindfulness and nonviolence, the concept of unity is part of numerous spiritual traditions. It refers to the fundamental lack of separation between oneself and the universe. Similarly, the unity principle in Hakomi invokes several realms of fundamental relatedness or interconnectedness—among the parts of ourselves, between self and others, and between oneself and the universe. A therapist working from this principle will recognize that all aspects of a person’s experience are part of a greater whole and will attempt to establish communication between these parts. The idea is that as communication is restored, and the larger wholeness is re-experienced, healing and reorganization spontaneously occur. Therapists working from this principle will invite a person to identify any conflicting parts of their present moment experience and explore the relatedness between them. This principle is also apparent when a therapist holds an attitude of equality or relatedness toward the client. The person is not perceived as being so different from the therapist, but as a whole human being in whose shoes the therapist can easily imagine himself or herself.

These five principles are the foundation of Hakomi therapy. When they are in place, people generally report feelings of curiosity, openness, relaxation, and trust toward themselves and their experiences, and therapy can become a genuinely enlivening experience.

“Our therapy (Hakomi) is not simple method and technique: at the heart of it all is the spirit of our work (the principles).” -Ron Kurtz, founder of Hakomi Therapy

References

Kurtz, R. (1991.) Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm Press.

© Copyright 2009 by Jaffy Phillips, MA, therapist in Northampton, Massachusetts. 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.

  • 3 comments
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  • ronnie

    ronnie

    November 16th, 2009 at 11:33 AM

    This is the first time I’m reading about ‘Hakomi’, but it seems to be an interesting method of therapy, connecting the therapist and the client. I believe this is a very important thing to happen in a therapy session related to mental well-being..

  • BULLARD

    BULLARD

    November 16th, 2009 at 3:33 PM

    Having a non-violent approach and thinking will, in my opinion, cleanse a person thoroughly… it will makes a person respect human life and people around him and show him goodness in everything around.

  • Lindsey

    Lindsey

    November 23rd, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    Interesting therapy. It sounds holistic , treating the the body and mind as one, imaginative and thoughtful. I will be exploring the concepts. Thank you.

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