To Satisfy First the Head: The Process of Hakomi Therapy

Woman getting a head massage“Therapy isn’t conversation … The rules of polite conversation are designed to expedite the flow of information between people, not within people…. The process of studying internal states and reactions requires something very different from conversation.”Ron Kurtz (Hakomi founder), Body-Centered Psychotherapy

Hakomi is a new concept for many people looking into therapy. The therapist is sometimes asked to deliver a clear, linear, concrete description of a process which is often anything but.

The one-sentence explanation: Hakomi is a nonviolent, collaborative, mindful process, providing and allowing multiple ways to (1) map your internal experience, (2) change core beliefs, and (3) integrate conflicting parts of self.

How it works:

  1. Principles (see end of article) and intention (loving presence) allow safety.
  2. Safety allows mindfulness.
  3. Mindfulness develops an “observer self” (self-watching self).
  4. Observer self allows disidentification. (“I am experiencing this” vs. “I am this.”)
  5. Disidentification allows differentiation (separation and definition) and transformation.
  6. Differentiation and transformation allow integration (or reintegration).

Note: This is just one conceptual model, and the process of Hakomi is not always this linear.

1. Mapping Internal Experience

“If you can observe your own experience with a minimum of interference, and if you don’t try to control what you experience, if you simply allow things to happen and you observe them, then you will be able to discover things about yourself that you did not know before. You can discover little pieces of the inner structures of your mind, the very things that make you who you are.”  – Ron Kurtz

Throughout our lives, we inherit and acquire many layers of conditioning. As humans, we are each born and normed into an infinite variety of systems, each with its own rules—expressed or implied. We learn strategies to optimize survival as we navigate that system. Through use and reuse, we create neural pathways, and we experience neurophysiological states as our bodies respond to those thought patterns. Simultaneously, our thought patterns respond to sensory input from our bodies, sometimes creating narrative to explain otherwise confusing signals.

Hakomi assumes that physical behaviors are not random—that our body responds to thoughts just as thoughts respond to bodily sensations. Unlike traditional talk therapies, Hakomi observes our entire present moment experience. This is what the client and therapist are collaboratively exploring and mapping: present-moment sensory signals, perceptions, emotions, narrative, memories, judgments, thought patterns, impulses, and whatever else draws the client’s attention.

One of the many tangible side-effects of this mindful process: separating our judgment of each experience from the experience itself.

This is all about safety.

Related terms for your own research: mentalization, metacognition, observer self

2. Changing Core Beliefs, Taking in the Good

“…To re-expose the patient, under more favorable circumstances, to emotional situations which he could not handle in the past. The patient, in order to be helped, must undergo a corrective emotional experience suitable to repair the traumatic influence of previous experiences…. Intellectual insight alone is not sufficient.” – Franz Alexander, one of the founders of psychosomatic medicine

We are exquisitely adaptive beings. We adapt to our surroundings. We develop templates of relationship, of trust, of space between self and other, of our own abilities in the world. We learn strategies to navigate a known system, and when we get hurt, we develop within ourselves a variety of strategies necessary to prevent us from being hurt the same way again. Sometimes this subconscious creative process creates internal conflict, fragmentation, separation from parts of self that we deem as dangerous or view as putting our survival at risk.

Hakomi often works directly with a one’s child state(s), considering this to be the most direct way to offer and absorb corrective experience. When safe, when ready—with consent and with mindfulness—the therapist allows the person to fully embody that state in session.

A therapist cannot fix the past. It’s past. And when we speak of an inner child, there’s not actually a tiny child embedded in our body. None of us lives in the past. We live in the present, experiencing our body’s reaction to well-traveled neural pathways formed during past experience. We are living in the now, often reacting to core beliefs that continually recreate our past experience. Hakomi works on the assumption that these are changeable beliefs—that changing any part of our equation changes the entire experience of now.

We’re changing your underlying equation in this present moment, just like it was set during a past experience. We’re adjusting your template, allowing new and present information into a system that became guarded against it. You then carry those new beliefs and strategies forward with you, inviting and allowing more positive experience.

Sometimes corrective experience means unconditional acceptance when exposing yourself emotionally. Sometimes it’s directly contacting the original belief (through words, touch, movement, etc.) while re-experiencing the state in which it formed. Sometimes just the process of Hakomi itself becomes a corrective experience—a level of intimate mental, physical, emotional attunement desired and not received in the past.

Related terms for your own research: constructivism (psychology), personal construct psychology, corrective experience, missing experience

3. Integrating Parts of Self

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid.” – Pema Chodron, Practicing Peace in Times of War

Hakomi assumes that separation from the organic self comes as the product of internal conflict. Through mindful awareness, Hakomi therapy often uncovers multiple parts of the self—sometimes full physiological states, sometimes just competing strategies accumulated over time.

Through experiment and exploration, parts differentiate and take shape. This process defines each part, allowing the natural progression of fitting parts together—sometimes through simple recognition of parts, other times through negotiation between parts. This is not a forcing, but an allowing, a natural fit.

The process of therapy often leads to a recognition that external integration (interpersonal connection with others) often reflects internal integration (intrapersonal connection between parts), and vice versa.

One of the greatest challenges in integration is simply allowing the good to come in again. We are masters of self-protection. We become attached to identities formed, and often we find that what was once a self-preserving adaptation has become a rigid pattern that does not fit current surroundings and tends to limit self in the present. What was once a solution is now a problem. Love might be all around us and at the same time might feel completely unreachable—not because it isn’t there, but because we believe we cannot allow it.

Related terms for your own research: Carl Jung and individuation, Dan Seigel and horizontal integration, vertical integration, memory integration, narrative integration, state integration, interpersonal integration, temporal integration

The Original Five Principles of Hakomi:

  • Mindfulness: a relaxed, present, alert, non-judgmental, observing state through which internal organization may be studied
  • Nonviolence: safe, accepting, non-forceful, cooperative exploration
  • Integration: differentiation and connection of previously conflicting parts (self-other, body-mind, desire/inhibition, inner child/developed self— any of countless parts identified in the present moment when confusion or struggle arises)
  • Unity: views life as a self-organizing, interdependent system containing and contained-within self-organizing, interdependent systems
  • Organicity: assumes that every system is self-directing and self-organizing, and that every part we have developed has honored the preserving of ‘self’ within a particular system

Resources:

  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 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jeremy McAllister, MA, LPC, therapist in Portland, Oregon

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.

  • 5 comments
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  • Chas

    Chas

    July 11th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Changing your core beliefs- what would lead you to want to do that unless someone else is pointing out to you that these are bad? I am assuming the therapist will help you work through whether or not this would be the right choice for you?

  • Elizabeth N

    Elizabeth N

    July 11th, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Where can I get this type of therapy..

  • Aimee

    Aimee

    July 12th, 2014 at 6:00 AM

    For me this sounds like not just a form of therapy to be integrated into one’s life but it sounds like something that should BE your life. Being mindful of yourself and others, changing your belief something into that which makes you happy, these are all things that of implements could make a huge difference in your life and in the world in general.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    July 16th, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Core beliefs represent ways in which we have adapted to a system. We carry beliefs and expectations about Self, Other, and World. We might believe we can depend on Self but not Other. World might be seen as safe, neutral, or hostile depending not just on our experience but our perception and organization of that experience – in turn based on previous experience and biological predispositions.

    Many of these beliefs are automatic. We don’t really notice them until, for example, we notice a therapist naming again the fist our hand makes while discussing an authority figure. Or we might notice again and again a judgment arising and breath becoming shallow just noticing the therapist’s eyes watching, expecting to be judged by Other.

    Hakomi is simultaneously very subtle and powerful.

    The mantra in writing stories is “Show, don’t tell.” In many ways, the same is true in Hakomi.

  • Jeremy McAllister

    Jeremy McAllister

    July 16th, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    Mindfulness (one of the major potential outcomes of Hakomi therapy) is absolutely a way of life. It allows us to step out of reactions, roles, and trances while stepping into choiceful responses, core self, and acceptance of change.

    For those wondering where to find a Hakomi therapist, goodtherapy is a great place to start. Information is also available through Hakomi training center websites.

    Some Hakomi practitioners may possess training and experience in Hakomi without choosing the path of full certification in Hakomi.

    As with any approach or technique, choosing a therapist is often a personal process and may include meeting multiple therapists before you feel you have a good fit for you.

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