The Hakomi Method is a mindfulness, somatic and experience-based approach to change. The Method is used both as a psychotherapeutic process as well as in educational settings to facilitate self-exploration and personal growth.
Originally, developed by Ron Kurtz in the late 1970’s, The Hakomi Method has grown in scope and applicability since its inception. Over the decades, many new advances have been integrated by Ron, the Hakomi Trainers and numerous practitioners. Today, Hakomi is taught and practiced successfully throughout the world. Here in the Southwest U.S., we have offered comprehensive training, workshops, supervision and Hakomi based consulting since the 1990s.
The Method itself combines venerable operating principles with mindfulness and precise methodology to create an extraordinarily effective path towards transformation. The basis of the work is threefold:
• to create a bonded relationship that allows enough safety for the client to turn inwards and explore present experiences [cognitive, somatic, emotional, energetic, spiritual, etc.]
• to follow those experiences towards the core material that generates them
• to pursue ways to honor core material and to offer a context in which healing and development can occur
Hakomi, an elder in the use of mindfulness and the body, holds an especially strong somatic orientation. Beginning with focused, relaxed self-awareness, the client is supported in studying the ways in which movement, gesture, voice, tensions, impulses and so on both reflect psychological material and provide direct access to core transformation.
The Flow of the Method
While each situation and session is of course unique, the Method outlines a clear path to guide client and therapist . This includes an artful weaving together of the following elements:
1. Establish a therapeutic relationship grounded in warmth and respect
2. Develop safety within relationship through presence and attunement
3. Elicit and stabilize mindful awareness
4. Facilitate self-study via therapeutic interventions called ‘little experiments’
5. Continue self-study in mindfulness to reveal any truncated experiences and limiting core material
6. Support state specific processing and mindful awareness of inner barriers to change
7. Utilize non-violence and acceptance in order to help cross the internal barriers to nourishment associated with the limiting experience
8. Support the transformation, integration and completion of the session
9. Design, together with client, pleasurable ‘homework’ applications to help with continued integration
1. Establish Relationship
Great care is taken to establish an effective working relationship, marked by safety, curiosity, warmth and mutual engagement. Attending to the attachment and relational styles of the client, the practitioner creates an inviting atmosphere of respect and participation. Such a bond allows the client to feel confident and supported in turning inwards, to pursue the transformational journey.
2. Create safety within relationship and within the client
The first task, then, is to build respect and safety. These essential qualities allow for cooperation with the unconscious. In this way, both client and therapist engage a powerful and willing ally in exploring core material and how it shapes one’s experience. Safety must be evoked within the relationship with the therapist as well as evaluated and nurtured within the client.
3. Elicit Mindfulness
Once a solid working relationship is created, the therapist establishes and utilizes a distinct state of consciousness we call Mindfulness. Drawn from many different Buddhist traditions and meditation practices, Hakomi employs Mindfulness as a distinct state of mind in which clients can slow down and observe carefully their internal experience. Mindfulness in psychotherapy is characterized by relaxed volition, a gentle and sustained inward focus of attention, heightened sensitivity, and the ability to notice and name the contents of consciousness. The intention is not to detach from what is noticed, but to let this witnessing function provide a platform for internal, psychological preference. The shift in perception provided by Mindfulness is crucial in many stages of the Hakomi process as we engage with a client’s innate capacities for self-discovery and healing. Because the client’s habitual responses are observed but not engaged, unconscious material that arises can be studied, and new experiences can emerge.
4. Create Experiments
The heart of the Method is the precise study of the client’s current experiences, to discover their origins in the unconscious. These experiences may be naturally occurring, or they may be deliberately and gently evoked by having the client participate in carefully designed “experiments”. For example, the client may be invited to notice the effect of standing in a certain way, or the internal impact of a relational exchange. Both verbal and non-verbal, such experiments arise from and are tailored to the theme of the session and the client’s momentary experience. Hakomi experiments often involve the experiences of the body, such as gestures, small movements, changes in breathing, posture and tension. The experiments always include mindfulness, and thus provide a careful study of the impact and meanings of the experience. Pursued in this felt way, events and their causative core material can be spotlighted, summoned, evaluated and transformed.
5. Reveal the Held Core Material
Core material is comprised of memories, images, beliefs, neural patterns and deeply held emotional dispositions. Typically formed during childhood, this material shapes the styles, habits, behaviors, perceptions and attitudes, which define us as individuals. Our responses to the major themes of life – safety, belonging, support, power, freedom, responsibility, appreciation, sexuality, spirituality, etc. – are all organized by core material.
Some of these responses are expansive, pro-active and creative, while others are more habituated, reactive and fear-based. The Hakomi Method allows the client to distinguish between the two, and to change willingly the patterns that constrict his or her innate wholeness.
6. State specific processing
Human consciousness is an ongoing river, with various specific states of consciousness providing distinct currents to the flow. Hakomi attends deliberately to recognizing, evoking, stabilizing and emerging from such states. To do so requires the practitioner to employ specific methods for different states:
- We work with strong emotions and bound up energy, releasing them gently and mindfully, and helping the client discover the innate vitality and wisdom within them.
- We work with state specific memories. That is, a session may include not just cognitively recalled memories, but a present moment immersion in the same state that was experienced while the memory was being formed. Many such moments include the presence of the child state of consciousness. Often, clients will simultaneously experience both their present day mindful observer and the younger state of perception and feeling that was present when psychological injury took place. Hakomi assists the client in experiencing and studying these pivotal childhood moments so that the client feels safe, curious and ultimately resolved and hopeful in the experience.
- We also work with traumatic states of consciousness. In differentiating the traumatic state and understanding the explicit neurobiological underpinnings of such activation, the client is guided into modulating their arousal levels.
7. Crossing Nourishment Barriers: Transformation of the limiting experience
The deep, core explorations which Hakomi provides create a more spacious and invigorated emotional climate in which clients can begin to experiment with and choose evolved beliefs and behaviors. At the core, the Hakomi practitioner works to establish alternative ways of being for the client, to supplant the limited, habituated and outdated beliefs and behaviors established years ago.
This is accomplished by providing the client with a new experience, one that was missing or impossible when injury happened. Such new experiences may be complex or simple, but generally reflect unmet childhood learning and relational needs: for example, being held, being listened to, being allowed to explore, feeling protected or supported, and so on.
Having such a new experience provides a template for living differently. The encounter with the missing experience creates a new, embodied perspective that can shift the perceptual and thus behavioral reference point for the client. The “old” story is updated, forgiven or transformed. This new experience is a vital point in the therapeutic process and provides motivation for further change.
8. Integration and Completion
This phase allows clients to emerge from the intensity of self-focused inner work, and to orient again towards the outside world. Therapists assist clients in transitioning from internal mindfulness to an ordinary state of consciousness. Impasses and discoveries are reviewed, goals are referenced, and future explorations are considered. Great care is taken to be sure the client feels grounded and ready to leave the nest of the process and to navigate again through their next encounters.
This phase of the work integrates newly discovered truths and options with the client’s everyday life. The work here is to stabilize and anchor any positive, powerful new experiences, insights and discoveries.
9. Integration of the work into everyday living
Eventually, we help the client to practice the new modes of organizing that they adopt, and to integrate these modes into their daily lives. In this phase, Hakomi works somatically to integrate new insights and to anchor them in the body. Similarly, the client is assisted in practicing the new attitudes and behavior, so that they may continue to use them as the basis for their lives. Living differently is the only real measure of actual change, and it is here, in fact — in the ability to transform the new possibilities discovered in the office into ongoing actualities in daily living — that real change happens.