emotional release

Hakomi: Riding the Rapids

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

In Hakomi, there are “four distinct states of consciousness.” First is the “ordinary, everyday, outward-focused consciousness” where most of our lives are lived. Second, where most Hakomi Therapy happens, is mindfulness: inward-focused awareness on present experience where “the vast richness of inner experience is available.” The third state of consciousness is working with intense emotions, “riding the rapids,” and the fourth “is the child” (Barstow, 1985, p. 14).

There are numerous experiments in mindfulness, including “verbal and nonverbal probes, taking over, slowing down, acknowledgments, referencing the neutral, physicalizing, and others” (Lavie, 2015, p. 179). Sometimes an experiment in mindfulness can touch a client so deeply that she finds herself “riding the rapids of spontaneous emotional release” (p. 192).

When safety and support have been established, a client might have “a spontaneous emotional release” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125). Emotional release, once it begins, can become an almost organic need, which, if uninterrupted, can flow to completion.

“In Hakomi, we don’t push through resistance, we process feelings when they arise spontaneously, without forcing them in any way. When an emotional release is seen as central and the therapist deliberately promotes it, the resistance to emotions is thought of as a negative part of the client. A struggle often ensues in which the therapist and one part of the client attempt to experience and express feelings, while another part of the client habitually fights back. The effect is often conflicting for the client, with feelings of guilt and failure on one side and natural resistance to being forced on the other. The part that doesn’t want to feel or express has a story too. We listen to it. When a way is found to accommodate both expression and control, the work with emotions is more integrated, less overwhelming, and meets with little resistance” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125).

Throughout the therapeutic process, clinicians continually and carefully track for the indicators that a client’s emotions are at hand and ready for release. At these times, we assist their release of emotions and don’t provoke them or exhaust their defenses whatsoever. We assist in managing the flow of feelings as they occur “by making them as safe as possible,” allowing them to “take their own course,” and by avoiding confrontation and being less directive and less insistent, we avoid triggering the defenses. In supporting the spontaneity “of emotional release, especially the tensions and postures,” a “client habitually uses to manage strong” emotions, the process becomes easier and safer for a client to go into (p. 125-126). This approach helps bring mindfulness into the ways one organizes their experience. Hakomi therapists attempt to help clients realize “that their feelings are okay and that” it can be safe and satisfying to express those feelings (p. 126).

The “spontaneous expression of strong emotions” is “a specific state of consciousness” that is characterized by intensity, present-time experience, physical spontaneity, and limited ability for thought or reason (p. 126). Lots of energy is released. These intense feelings generally come in waves with insight and memories in between the crests. Feelings of rage, profound grief of loss, and deep sobbing can seem overwhelming and uncontrollable even though much effort can be expended to control them. However, if one attempts to control them, they get more painful. When the feelings are accepted as okay and even natural, when they are expressed more freely “and allowed to run their course,” then they aren’t just bearable, they can be comforting (p. 126).


Barstow, C. (1985). An Overview of the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 8-18. http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Forum/Issue2/Overview.pdf

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

Lavie, S. (2015). Experiments in Mindfulness. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 178-193). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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