Hakomi: States of Consciousness and Establishing Mindfulness

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

States of Consciousness

In Hakomi psychotherapy, there are four states of consciousness:

  1. Ordinary consciousness, which includes open eyes with direct eye contact, a conversational tone and pace of speech, and low or controlled emotions.
  2. Mindfulness where eyes are generally closed; speech is slower, softer and quieter in general; breath is gentle; the body is still; and which includes all components of a light trance.
  3. The child state with childlike voice; a sense of wonder; simple sentence structure; youthful facial expressions and gestures; younger-looking body; shy in a childlike way.
  4. Riding the rapids wherein there is excitement; a high level of emotional expression; labored breathing; and wavelike body movements (Kurtz, 1990).

“In teaching and inviting clients to turn their awareness inside to notice whatever their present awareness is, we are deliberately encouraging our clients to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Barstow, 2015, p. 142).

Establishing Mindfulness

“Before attempting to evoke experiences in mindfulness, mindfulness itself must be established” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 85). Mindfulness is an open, vulnerable, non-ordinary state of consciousness where rapport and safety are already established. Before using techniques like probes or taking over, some things need to be in place including the relationship. All signs of cooperation, including cooperation of the unconscious, are there. Also, the clinician needs to conceptualize what would be a meaningful, interesting experience for the client.

Additionally, when the client is talking, it’s important to wait for the client to finish saying whatever they need to say. Even if the therapist has some valid ideas regarding what to do, it is nevertheless important to give the client time to finish. When the client is finished talking, she will then wait for the therapist to respond. When this happens, then the therapist can ask the client if she wants to try something that might be interesting like, for example, a probe (Kurtz, 1990).

The therapist doesn’t know how much the client needs to discuss her “story in ordinary consciousness” to feel safe, so a way of responding to a talkative client might be, “‘Why don’t we hang out with this sense of cautiousness, and maybe it will tell us more about itself?’” (Gaskin & Cole, 2015, p. 133). Another intervention might be to ask the client how she experiences the caution in her body.

Ron Kurtz found that nearly everyone he worked with could get into a state of mindfulness. Even the briefest moments of mindfulness can reveal significant, evoked experiences that can be utilized for accessing emotions, core beliefs or the child state (Kurtz, 1990).

If the therapist has listened to the client and has conceptualized some possible ways of responding then she can use a probe, a little experiment, an acknowledgment, or take something over for the client. These techniques can be combined in elegant ways. “Probes, acknowledging, contact statements, little experiments, and the various forms of taking over are the main interventions in Hakomi Therapy” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 90). These are the “core techniques,” just as mindfulness and nonviolence are the “central principles” (p. 90).

According to Kurtz, the closest precursor to probes would be Carl Jung’s use of “word association techniques” created by Wilhelm Wundt (p. 90).


Barstow, C. (2015). Ethics: right use of power. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 139-148). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Gaskin, C.L. & Cole, D. (2015) Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 129-138). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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

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Hakomi: The Essential Process

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“The freedom to change, to change who you are, happens rarely, during very special moments. These moments are made possible, in part, by something about the therapist. It is this: the therapist is extremely sensitive to what is happening within the other’s experience, especially those signs that indicate where the process wants to go that it has never gone before. Not all processes are alive like that” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 73-74). Many are automatic, unconscious, habitual actions. Automatic, unconscious or habitual responses don’t contain anything new or lend themselves to insights, learning or growth. “For the client to make real choices, the therapist must be following, not leading” (p. 74).

Additionally, a client needs to be committed to the concept of self-study. They must be willing to let the therapist experiment, which can evoke some painful situations early on. The client may get very emotional without necessarily understanding why, until the moment an early memory resurfaces that goes with the emotion. This process requires courage in the client (Prengel, 2009).

“The combined use of the principles as guidelines, mindfulness as a therapeutic tool, and nonviolence as a basic emotional attitude of the therapist make Hakomi unique” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 67). “Within the frame of the process, we do three big things: we establish mindfulness; we evoke experiences of different kinds; and we process the experiences evoked in one of three different, state-specific ways” (p. 67). These three different states (of consciousness) include “strong emotions, the child state, and going for meaning” (p. 70).

“The essential process always depends on the therapist’s ability to create a special atmosphere for the client. The client must feel that the therapist is following what he or she, the client, is doing, needing or wanting. At whatever stage the process is, what happens next must be in line with what the client’s deepest self agrees to” (p. 74).

The process works through establishing mindfulness in the client. Mindfulness is a “relaxed, open, undefended, quiet” and special state, which involves noticing one’s own present-time experience (p. 68). Mindfulness includes observing one’s inner experience through a detached witness state of consciousness (Barstow & Johanson, 1999). In establishing mindfulness, feeling safe and a cooperative attitude are needed, especially the cooperation of the unconscious of the client (and of the clinician as well). Through mindfulness, one can access information related to core material more easily and faster than any other way (Kurtz, 1990).

Different Hakomi techniques that can evoke experiences in mindfulness include little experiments, all kinds of probes, taking over, and acknowledgments. Evoked experiences include thoughts, feelings (mild to overwhelming), sensations, tensions, impulses, memories, images and the inner child state (Kurtz, 1990).


Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (1999). Front Page and Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. Hakomi Forum, 13.

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

Prengel, S. (2009). Ron Kurtz on the Hakomi Method. Retrieved from

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Between Religion And Science, The Soul Gleefully Swings

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Soul Food...we all need it.

Soul Food: We All Need It! (Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI

Humans have contemplated the origins of the soul, and its connection to some sort of divine, omnipotent source for thousands of years. This post is not an advertisement for religion; it’s an exploration of the theme. Religion is a comforting, human way to personalize and categorize our universe. It is also the ghost in the machine, impossible to ascertain, or even quantify. The matter of divine connection as a collective species is the fire that forged worship, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, and eventually transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal Psychology is a school of thought inspired by the pioneering work of American psychologist, William James, one of the forefathers of modern psychology. It is the exploration of the highest potential of man, as defined by the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.

According to James, the religious experience has four key components:

  1. It is short in duration
  2. It is hard to describe in words and very emotional
  3. It leaves the subject feeling as though they have learned something significant
  4. It happens to the subject usually without conscious manipulation, though the environment has shown to play a role.

Imagine a feeling that at once dissolves the individual into a place of complete connectedness and love. The religious experience is so moving that it can affect an individual for the rest of his or her life. The memory of the experience is so charged, it seems it can be recalled at will for years. A normal physiological occurrence that feels similar, albeit usually shorter, is the human orgasm.

There is nothing modern about this experience or this longing. Ancient cultures all have their unique brand of religious experience. Deep trances, speaking in tongues, dancing frenzies, and altered states of consciousness, in various forms, were common to indigenous people of almost every continent. Their purpose was to bring whole tribes of people into communion with the divine force. As time went on, this unseen force acquired many names, was worshiped in many languages, but the only constant in the matter seemed to be this shared drive to find, and have a communion with this force.

The religious experience has been known to have long-term effects on the subjects who have had them. Modern science has become increasingly interested in studying these effects, which include a new appreciation for life, better moods, inspired creative activity, increased levels of tolerance, patience, and empathy. The subject feels a part of something special, like a divine force took a moment out of infinity to validate them. We all know how good validation feels. Validation is like high performance fuel in the gas tank. The engine of the car is going to run better.

Science has some very interesting conclusions to bear on what is happening to the subject of a religious experience on a neurological level. In The Neuroscience of Religious ExperiencePatrick McNamara and collaborators describe how the neurotransmitter dopamine, when produced excessively, has been correlated with increases in religious inclination, hallucinations, and dramatic shifts in the subject’s perception.

Positive correlations between religion and health have also been noted in the research on dopaminergic neurons, and their managerial properties in relation to the autonomic nervous system. A subject in the throes of a religious experience shows high activity in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex of the brain, suggesting that higher order functions are at work, rather than the evolutionary biological reaction that would reside mostly in the limbic system. Some of the noted positive health effects on the subject include reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and pain symptoms. Subjects reported more positive mental well-being, and confidence. The lasting effects of regular spiritual practice are positively correlated to improved mental and physical health.

At Healing Pathways Psychological Services, we work with people of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures. We all have the same goal: to live a happy and purposeful life! Call us if you’d like to meet one of our talented therapists.


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