Hakomi: Experimenting with Probes

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“A probe is an experiment in mindfulness, an example of evoked experience, assisted meditation, if you like. We take time to prepare. We set up mindfulness, introduce a stimulus and study the reaction. We’re looking for clues to the organization of experience” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 91).

Clients are asked to notice whatever reactions spontaneously occur for them in response to a potentially nourishing statement (Barstow & Johanson, 2015). When the client is aware of his or her reaction, then she is not reacting. Instead, she is responding as noticing a reaction is different from reacting itself. “With mindfulness, consciousness is self-reflective, able to study itself” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 91).

Probes can be nourishing, but nourishment is not the main objective. With probes, we give the client a chance to “either take in something that’s needed or to see clearly that he or she rejects what’s offered. From there, we can explore how and why that nourishment is rejected. We offer precisely the nourishment that we think the client needs and wants most and will have the most difficulty taking in. That’s where the growth potential is” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 95).

Before delivering a probe, the therapist asks the client to relax into a mindful state by closing the eyes and bringing full attention to the present moment. The therapist waits until the client is ready. When the client is ready, the therapist offers a brief, concise statement. For example, “Notice what happens for you when I say…”

“It’s safe here.”
“All of your feelings are okay.”
“You’re welcome here.”
“I’m here for you.”
“You’re a beautiful person.”

The client could respond with a feeling, thought, memory, or tension in your body, and it’s okay if nothing happens. For example, let’s say the therapist says, “You’re a beautiful person” and the client responds, “I don’t think you really mean that.” In that case, the therapist could try asking for a description of what came up, which could be expressed like, “I hear what you’re saying, however, I don’t believe you said what happened for you. Did you notice a thought, feeling, memory, or anything?” If this doesn’t work, then create more safety or help the client get into a deeper state of relaxation. Then, deliver a probe again.

Probes are delivered slowly and with a pause between the part about noticing what happens and the probe statement itself. This pause helps the client remain in a mindful state. Probes are also delivered in a neutral tone of voice without trying to convince or pressure the client to accept or reject the statement. Probes are also not ordinary conversations, and the therapist should avoid making unrealistic statements, such as: “nobody will feel anger toward you ever again.”

As a therapist works with a client, they will often refine the probes until it is more catered to that particular client. Also, it is not ideal to use first-person statements, such as: “I love you.” Instead, say something like, “you’re lovable.” With first-person statements, it’s easy to interact “based on transference” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 95).

The client could begin acting like you’re having an ordinary conversation. If this happens, then be clear that “the probe is an experiment and not necessarily a true expression of your thoughts and feelings” (p. 95).

Finally, it is possible to turn a contact statement such as, “some sadness huh” into a probe like, “all your feelings are welcome here” or “tired, huh” into “it’s okay to rest” (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (2015). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 295-299). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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