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Hakomi: Healing Relationships and the Hierarchy of Contexts

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

In Hakomi, there is a hierarchy of contextual levels. At the lowest level is the technique. Techniques, like probes or contact statements, are easy to learn. The techniques are powerful and work effectively. Students can have success with them right away and can work more exclusively at this level for months or even years. While a student may look for opportunities to use the techniques, they often don’t yet know how to create such opportunities. Through experience, one learns to notice more of these opportunities, and eventually, they learn to organize the techniques in a more systematic and integrated way which brings them to the next level, that of the method (Kurtz, 1988, 1990).

At the next higher level, the method organizes the techniques. The student uses techniques less often but more precisely. They become aware of the diverse aspects of a client. As an example, they learn to work with the client’s inner child. The basic method involves utilizing the Hakomi methodology to evoke experiences that lead to the discovery of a client’s core organizing material, then to examining, processing and transforming that core material (Hakomi Institute, 2015).

“In studying the method, one begins to think about: what character process is this? What system am I in and how can I jump out? What part of the process is this? How do I create an experiment here?” Mastering this level takes much longer, but the work becomes more alive, rich and satisfying. The method is powerful but still has some limits. This brings one to the next level beyond the method, which is the level of relationship (Hakomi Institute; Kurtz, 1990, p. 54).

At the level of the (therapist-client) relationship, a therapist’s “emotional growth and depth of understanding” help determine which methods will work at any given time (Kurtz, 1990, p. 55). The essence of the therapist-client relationship is about obtaining the cooperation and permission of the unconscious, which includes avoiding triggering a client’s need to resist. Acknowledging and honoring a client’s defenses helps them to relax and helps significant experiences to emerge. This means accepting them nonjudgmentally and letting go of any agendas, even if those are based on positive intentions. “Cooperation of the unconscious happens when the client finds nothing in the therapist to resist” (p. 60). The ideal emotional attitude helps a therapist to be available for assistance and just as available to back off, wait and see “where the process wants to go” (p. 63). In giving the relationship a greater priority, the method and technique become easier. Healing relationships are special. There is an essential warmth and friendliness. “There is no question of healer and healed. Both are parts of something greater taking place. Both feel this. Each is healed” (p. 64). At the highest level are the principles. Hakomi principles include mindfulness, nonviolence, unity, mind-body holism, and organicity (Kurtz, 1990).

With unity, for example, we learn that the locus of control and healing are not in the therapist or anything externally, but that control and healing exist within the client and the therapeutic relationship (Kurtz, 1988). Many interventions involve a relaxation of effort, of allowing the spontaneous to happen. “Effort is an ego function. When one efforts, the act of efforting creates an I and a something the I struggles against. In this drama of struggle and competition, the chief act is the creation of a separate self: an ego. Without the struggle, there is no drama”. In spontaneity, “effort evaporates, and ego relaxes” (p.10).

The principles guide all levels but particularly that of relationship. In Hakomi, the therapist’s emotional attitude is grounded within the principles. There is a focus on how all of us are still learning and growing (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Hakomi Institute. (2015). The Hakomi Method. Retrieved from http://hakomiinstitute.com/about/the-hakomi-method

Kurtz, R. S. (1988). The Healing Relationship. Hakomi Forum, 6, 8-17.

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

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Hakomi: The Principles, Part 2

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(Photo Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Mind-Body Holism

While there are influences that the body has upon the mind, in Hakomi, the focus is more on how the mind influences the body, specifically how core beliefs and early memories affect someone somatically or physically (Kurtz, 1990).

In Hakomi, the focus is on the “mind-body interface” where beliefs, images, and emotions interact with bodily experiences and where these interactions take place in both directions (Kurtz 1990, p. 31; Myullerup-Brookhuis, 2008).

Mind and body are part of one system and interact at different levels. Hakomi looks at some ways that the body reveals one’s beliefs and emotions. Mind-body holism, which borrows from Reichian therapy and Bioenergetics, allows one to view “the body as an expression of mental life” by studying body posture, structure and behavior. The therapist tracks the client’s “bodily signs of inner experiences” (Kurtz, 1985, p. 4).

Unity

Psychotherapists work to get differing aspects of communicating, including family members, body and mind or various aspects of the mind. This requires some skill in order to coax the disowned aspects out of the unconscious and give them a voice with which to speak in a more open and direct way by creating a dialogue. When the dialogue can happen within a safe and nurturing context, then the opportunities for integration are that much better (Kurtz, 1990).

“In therapy, we attempt to establish and enhance communication between conscious and unconscious and between mind and body. In using mindfulness, we create opportunities which allow the unconscious a clear chance to express and be seen, heard and felt. In our focus on the mind-body interface, we work to create channels of communication between them. When we work with the child, we are often hearing from a part that has long been suppressed and silent. When the client comes to insight, meaning and self-acceptance, again it is one part understanding or accepting another” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 33).

In Hakomi, the principles are much more important than techniques. Techniques emerge spontaneously from knowing the principles. It’s better to have the feel of the work than to have the theory (Kurtz, 1990).

“No preferences. No fighting with what simply is. This Zen attitude is basic to both mindfulness and nonviolence.” When there are no preferences, there is no holding on (Kurtz, 1990, p. 37).


References

Kurtz, R. S. (1985). Foundations of Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 2, 3-7.

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

Myullerup-Brookhuis, I. (2008). The Principles of Hakomi. Hakomi Forum, 19-21, 69-84.

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Hakomi: The Principles, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

A new paradigm is happening in the world that emphasizes concepts like connection, inclusiveness, consciousness, body-mind interface, partnership and internal locus of control (Kurtz, 1990).

Truth can exist in multiple, different forms. There is value in being more inclusive and in considering multiple points of view and being open to the possibility that there can be more than one way to be right, in a given situation.

Ron Kurtz, the creator of Hakomi, said that he did not like the word “client,” and instead preferred to say “the people who come to me” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 18). He realized how important it was to shift one’s attitude from a desire “to make something happen” to being totally fine if nothing at all happened in therapy (p. 18). This means letting go of having an agenda. The client has a degree of power to direct their own therapy; therefore, it is important for the therapist to let go of control and any desire to take credit for the work taking place (Kurtz, 1990).

Organicity

Hakomi has several principles, which include organicity. Organicity happens when the therapist works cooperatively with the client’s natural, inherent movement towards wholeness. Organicity “places the locus of healing and control within the client and the client-therapist relationship. The client’s growth and unfolding, his or her answers or resolutions, completions and new directions, are all within” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 25). The therapist is simply present to help assist the client’s process (Hakomi Institute, 2015).

Organicity involves looking for and following natural processes. The therapist doesn’t impose a structure or agenda but rather looks for sources of growth and movement and supports them. This can mean, for example, giving a client time after an interaction to decide what interests and direction they want to pursue. In Hakomi, the therapist supports the client’s defense mechanisms, the ones a client uses to manage significant experiences. There are creative ways to work with the defenses that support growth (Kurtz, 1990).

When the various aspects of the subconscious are able to communicate with the conscious personality, then one can become more self-directed and self-correcting (Kurtz, 1990; Myullerup-Brookhuis, 2008).

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a principle and a state of consciousness that includes noticing how someone is organizing their experiences. Through mindfulness the therapist assists the client’s own inner wisdom “to create change through awareness rather than through effort” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 27). In therapy, one effect is to just stay with an experience longer and allow things to happen. People organize their perceptions and actions around core beliefs. A primary goal of therapy is to bring organizing material, including core beliefs, into conscious awareness (Kurtz, 1990).

Mindfulness involves being truly present with one’s present-time experience. One cannot be mindful about the past or future. We can only remember the past or anticipate the future. In being mindful, we choose to observe the present without interference. This implies having a receptive attitude which, even if it is only momentary, can provide valuable insights. As we bring our experiences into mindful awareness, we can begin to transcend them and to let them go (Kurtz, 1990; Myullerup-Brookhuis, 2008).

Nonviolence

“Violence in therapy is not just deliberate, physical harm”, violence in therapy can be subtle and not immediately apparent to those of us “raised with the models of authority common to our culture” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 29). For example, when someone assumes they know what is best for another then that is considered violence. This is the opposite of organicity.

Nonviolence involves going with the grain; that is what’s natural and what works. Going against the grain is what generates resistance. Nonviolence in therapy means accepting the client as they are, with their own story, ideas, desires, capacities and pace (Kurtz, 1990).

Ron Kurtz preferred to call defenses or defense mechanisms “managing experience” (p. 29). “In Hakomi, we do not oppose the client’s efforts to manage his or her experience. We support these in an effort to give the client a safe and controlled way to explore the experiences more deeply and completely. Any attempt to oppose such management meets with resistance anyway and the work becomes more effortful and more painful than it need be (Kurtz, 1990, p. 29). After all, one’s management style is their best effort to deal with pain and fear, an old and valuable tool.

By gaining the cooperation of the client’s unconscious and by supporting and following their own process and pace, we hold a space for any experiences that need to happen. By supporting, a client does the work she wants to do and she takes the credit for that work and deservedly so (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Hakomi Institute. (2015). The Hakomi Principles. Retrieved from http://hakomiinstitute.com/about/the-hakomi-method/the-hakomi-principles

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

Myullerup-Brookhuis, I. (2008). The Principles of Hakomi. Hakomi Forum, 19-21, 69-84.

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Hakomi, Part 2: The Organization of Experience

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

In Hakomi psychotherapy, the organization of experience relates to how people organize their life experiences. This includes how they interpret what happens to them and what unconscious core beliefs and unnecessary suffering originate from these experiences. The job of the therapist is to help clients study how they organize their experiences. Transformational psychotherapy deals with the modification of core beliefs (Johanson, 2012; Kurtz, 1990). “Since these beliefs are at the basis of what story we live in the world, they can be termed core narrative beliefs” (Johanson, 2012, p. 52).

Organizing one’s life experiences to create meaning out of life is normal and not necessarily maladaptive. However, if for example, one organizes themselves to be overly self-reliant, due to a lack of support earlier in life, but they do not update the accompanying core beliefs, then they may be unable to receive much support later in life. They could perceive a lack of support even when it was more readily available. They could become so accustomed to not receiving support from others that if it were offered they might immediately block it (Johanson, 2012).

“When you know how you are organizing your experience, you become free to organize it in new ways” (Kurtz, 1990, p.11). In this experience of becoming consciously aware of how we organize our experiences, we begin to transcend the old habits and beliefs we had been stuck in and run by. We now have new, previously unavailable, choices. (Kurtz, 1990).

To effectively study how one organizes their experiences, it is essential to stay out of ordinary conversation. Psychotherapy is not the same as ordinary conversation and it is necessary to make a distinction between them so the therapist and client don’t get caught up in the rituals and rules of polite conversation. For example, in a polite conversation, one doesn’t interrupt the other person or take charge of the discussion. But in order to take the therapy to a deeper level, the therapist needs to be more directive and to assist in narrowing the range of pertinent topics that are discussed in therapy by focusing on present time experiences (Kurtz, 1990).

Studying a client’s present time experience is a good way to assist them in discerning how they organize their experiences. This involves asking a client to get into a state of mindful relaxation and to simply notice what they are feeling emotionally and what physical sensations they are experiencing in their body. Noticing this can become for them an access portal to the core beliefs behind it. This is an experiment in consciousness. There are numerous creative ways to do these experiments and Hakomi therapists will ideally know at least two dozen different ways. One way to do this is to offer a previously unavailable or inaccessible nourishing experience, in the form of a statement (Kurtz, 1990; Martin, 2016).


References

Johanson, G. (2012). Mindfulness, emotions and the organization of experience. Hakomi Forum, 25, 49-70.

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

Martin, D. (2016, October 27). What is Hakomi? Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://hakomieducationnetwork.org/about-hakomi/what-is-hakomi/

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Healing with Hakomi, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Kitja Kitja)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

The Hakomi Method is a form of contemporary, body-centered or somatic psychotherapy created by Ron Kurtz in the 1970s. It is influenced by general systems theory, particularly living systems, whereby complex systems share basic organizing principles, and is rooted in spiritual principles of the East, including Buddhism, Taoism, mindfulness and nonviolence Hakomi Institute, 2015; Kurtz, 1985).

Nonviolence in psychotherapy includes a willingness to let go of taking credit for a client’s successes in therapy. This means being fully participatory in a client’s healing process without having an agenda or seeing oneself as a hero, even in more subtle ways (Kurtz, 1990).

Growth requires courage, especially when feelings of failure are part of a client’s pain. So how does the therapist hold a space for the re-emergence of vulnerability and courage in the client? They do it through grace, magic, wisdom, care, and by acknowledging the aspects of the client that are ready to grow and heal (Kurtz, 1990).

It is important to recognize what the client is ready to express, and know what potential exists in each moment. At the most basic level, this means, for example, responding to a client’s body language and being mindful of changes in his tone of voice or his eyes becoming moist, and then saying…’Some sadness, huh?’ Recognizing and naming can help a client become more open to any tears or emotions and/or acknowledge a part of herself that would otherwise go unnoticed and slip back into the unconscious (Kurtz, 1990, p. 7).

“To gently name what is real, here and now, to speak out simply without arguing or proving, that is not force,” wrote Kurtz in his book Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. “It is a wise and graceful use of the energies of the moment. It calls forth what is true in the client. And that is magic—the calling forth by naming. It has the authority of truth, truth spoken cleanly, with no other motive than to be present and bear witness.”

If the client has been holding back and hiding the truth from both themselves and others, the client’s prior inability to deal with pain can be transformed by the therapist witnessing the client’s truth from a place of love. Energies that were spent in limiting oneself become free to promote new insights into one’s old and unconscious self-sabotaging behaviors (Kurtz, 1990).

When the therapist asks a client to be mindful of what they are experiencing, he is asking for vulnerability and openness from the client for whatever will emerge. Beyond the vulnerability of mindfulness is the vulnerability of the inner child. This child has been hurt and discouraged many times in the past. When the therapist embodies wisdom and care, the wounded child, in the unconscious of the client, responds positively and can be re-integrated back into the conscious awareness of the client (Kurtz, 1990).


References

Hakomi Institute. (2015). Memoriam to Ron Kurtz. Retrieved from http://hakomiinstitute.com/resources/ron-kurtz

Kurtz, R. S. (1985). Foundations of Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 2, 3-7.

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

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