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What is HAKOMI?

Updated: Apr 7, 2018

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 developed in scope, detail and teachability over the past 28 years. During this time, 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 Bay Area, with several professional trainings and workshops per year, Hakomi has thrived for more than 20 years.

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 heal and evolve the core material

Hakomi, an leader in the use of mindfulness and the body, holds an especially strong somatic orientation. Evoking focused 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 Principles

At the heart of The Hakomi Method is a set of time-honored principles which underlie all aspects of the work. Navigating by these principles, the practitioner approaches both the client and the process with a sense of wholeness, respect, and humility.  This framework then translates into concrete clinical skills and thoughtfully designed interventions. Equally important, holding the client in this perspective, he or she may then be able to internalize these principles as an ongoing  source of inner guidance. 

The principles are:

• Unity: an inclusive awareness of the interrelatedness of things • Organicity: the recognition and  honoring or each person’s individuality • Mind/Body/Spirit Holism: the assumption that all elements of experience are essential. • Mindfulness: the value of being genuinely aware of exactly what is happening • Nonviolence: a commitment to respect and loving regard • Truth: the pursuit of the actual nature of things • Change: the trust that things can and will move and evolve

The Flow of the Method

While each situation and piece of work is of course unique, the Method offers a clearly described general pattern of execution. This includes the following elements:

1. Establish Relationship 2. Create safety within relationship and within the client 3. Elicit Mindfulness 4. Create Experiments 5. Reveal the held core material 6. State specific processing 7. Transformation of the limiting experience 8. Integration 9. Completion of the work

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:

1. 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.

2. We work with state specific memories. That is, a session may include not just cognitively recalled memories, but a present reimmersion 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.

3. 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. 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

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.

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.

9. Completion of the work

The completion phase allows clients to emerge from the intensity of self-focused inner work, and to orient again towards the outside world. 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.

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