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Hakomi: Transformation

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

There can come a powerful time in the hakomi process when “the work of transformation takes place,” writes Ron Kurtz in his book Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method (Kurtz, 1990, p. 146). You arrive at this point after “emotions have been expressed, after the child has understood and gotten what she needs, after insight and meaning, a particular point is reached where the work of transformation takes place” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 146). 

The seeds are planted, and the “compelling grip of some piece of core material relaxes, and new actions and experiences become possible. The discovery of that possibility is the transformation. What is new is that one can be different; that one’s whole life can be different. The point of transformation in therapy is the point where the client knows this and takes actions based upon this knowledge, and finds that these actions work” (p. 146). 

Transformation often happens spontaneously, coming alive in the experience of the moment. The transformation could begin with a client embracing a new belief like “I am okay as I am.” Or the transformation could begin by expressing something like love or anger, which, in the past, they may have withheld. Then in the safe space of therapy, a client can experiment with new options. They have probably waited for years to say, do, believe, or feel this new option that’s been waiting to happen. 

In an “authoritarian model of healing, the client is a problem to be solved. In Hakomi, the client is a” healing experience waiting to happen (p. 146). In the normal course of development, it could have happened, but it didn’t. A goal in therapy is coaxing that (missing) experience into happening. 

“In Hakomi, we pursue transformation. That is the goal of therapy: to learn and master new options” (p. 147). In this way, a client starts to integrate/incorporate “new beliefs and ways of being” (p. 147). As this happens, a client can experience new insights “and memories or go in and out of the rapids” (p. 147).

In conclusion, the deeper, core explorations Hakomi offers “create a more spacious and invigorated emotional climate” where clients can start experimenting with and choosing “evolved beliefs and behaviors.” At a core level, a Hakomi practitioner assists with establishing “alternative ways of being for” a client, supplanting outdated, habituated, and limiting beliefs and behaviors created years ago (Method & Process).

This happens through offering the client “a new experience, one that was missing or impossible when” an injury occurred. These new experiences can be simple or complex, “but generally reflect unmet childhood learning and relational needs: for example, being held, being listened to, being allowed to explore, feeling” supported or protected, and so on (Method & Process).

Having this new experience offers “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” a client. Old stories are forgiven, updated, or transformed. This new experience is crucial for the therapeutic process, offering motivation for additional change (Method & Process).

In particular and on a “level of practical intervention, Hakomi” uses three important “and consistent strategies to bring about lasting change for” clients. These include: “(1) disidentification, (2) integration, and (3) experiential learning” (Weiss, 2015, p. 228). These will be explored in the next blog(s). 


References

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

Method & Process. (n.d.). Hakomi Institute of California. Retrieved from https://www.hakomica.org/about-hakomi/method-process.

Weiss, H. (2015). Transformation. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 227-241). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Hakomi: Character Strategies

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Character strategy is defined in Hakomi terms as approaches, patterns, and habits in the world someone created for “pleasure and satisfaction, given the nature of their particular core organizing beliefs about the world” (Barstow & Johanson, 2015, p. 2).

Character patterns manifest due to ongoing interactions of a developing child with her emotional/physical environment. These strategies and patterns can be perceived as strengths created by a child. In this perspective, character is seen more as a “function rather than malfunction. But a strength developed to the point of imbalance is also a weakness and every function overly developed in one direction leaves another direction undeveloped. For example, the strength some people develop to bear up under difficult conditions may leave those same people little sense of joy and lightness. In one of the patterns we study—the burdened-enduring pattern–the over developed strength of bearing up under blame leads to difficulties in taking responsibility and action” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 40).

The Hakomi character theory map evolved from prior “theories of Wilhelm Reich (1949), Alexander Lowen (1958, 1975), David Shapiro (1965), and John Pierrakos (1990)” (Eisman, 2015, p. 76). These theories wherein Hakomi gets its character theory model were “authoritarian and classically medical” in orientation, which means they perceived “strategic adaptions to developmental wounding” as an indicator of pathology, as unhealthy and neurotic (Eisman, 2015, p. 77). In Hakomi, character isn’t viewed “as a pathological digression, but as a creative attempt to assert one’s organicity—to find personal empowerment in an untenable situation” (p. 77).

In Hakomi, there are eight main character patterns (Kurtz, 1990, Eisman, 2015). Some individuals appear to exist primarily “in one or another, whereas others are more fluid” and can shift from one to another depending upon different situations, with “sometimes more than one pattern within” someone occurring in one situation (p. 79).

Eight Character Strategies 

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: One minimizes their self-expression or contact with others and takes shelter in thought or fantasies. 
  2. Dependent/Endearing: One seeks support through acting childlike.
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: One activates self-support and relies on themselves; they seek challenges.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: One hides their weaknesses, insecurity and fear, they look tough and act important.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: One hides their true intentions, charms others and uses them to get what they want.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: One carries a heavy load, remains firm and patient. 
  7. Expressive/Clinging: One dramatizes feelings and events to gain attention and avoid abandonment.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: One works hard, keeps going and going, being overactive.

One can view “character patterns as interruptions of, or impairments in” the development of natural, social, and psychological functions (Kurtz, 1990, p. 46). “Impairment leaves the function truncated, distorted or incompletely learned” (p. 47). Here are “the missing core experiences” or experiences that want to happen for each character strategy (p. 47):

Missing Core Experiences

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: A sense of safety, being welcome, pleasurable interactions, and freedom from fear.
  2. Dependent/Endearing: Gratitude, abundance, nourishment, being cared for. 
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: Receiving support willingly from others.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: Being authentic, showing vulnerability, freedom from being manipulated.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: Being authentic, accepting oneself as they really are, freedom from being harassed.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: An absence of pressure, responsibility or guilt.
  7. Expressive/Clinging: Love and attention given freely without a struggle.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: Love and appreciation, freedom to play and relax (Kurtz, 1990). 

References

Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (1999). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. Hakomi Forum, 13, 2-5. 

Eisman, J. (2015). Hakomi Character Theory. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 76-90). 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 Organization of Experience, Part 2

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“In Hakomi, we help our clients study how they create meaning and feeling out of events, that is, how they organize their experiences. Whole classes of experiences are organized around key issues like safety or being loved. To study these, we first focus on a particular present experience, like” muscle tension, a feeling, thought or an image. This experience reveals how experience is being organized and how to access the core material hidden underneath it (Kurtz, 1990, p. 11).

Two entirely different processes affect what someone experiences, including what is occurring externally around them and the tendencies and other elements that first convert these external events into primary sensory information, then into the nervous system, and eventually into conscious experiences (Kurtz, 1985).

To a large degree, “especially at the lower levels of conversion, these habits” are adaptive and not a problem. Still, it’s at the level of feeling and meaning that the conversion of events into experience can sometimes become unnecessarily inhibiting and painful (Kurtz, 1985, p. 3).

The organization of experience developed through one’s emotional-psychological history and is based upon mundane information and misinformation, beliefs, “and, at the deepest levels, memories of emotionally intense events, relationships, and interactions. These key beliefs and memories have the emotional power to create the basic habits with which we organize experience” (p.3).

In Hakomi, central organizing habits and memories are called core material. This core material strongly influences one’s personality with a significant impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The ways core material is organized can be noticed in even ordinary details of behavior if one observes carefully (Kurtz, 1985).

“The explicit study of the organization of experience is the very essence of Hakomi Therapy” (Kurtz, 1985, p.3).

In Hakomi, the therapist carefully protects “the emotional experience of the client, providing safety and support wherever possible” then within that delicate, supportive space, we initiate and assist the processes by which a client first becomes aware of and then begins to “change the habits which make some experiences automatically and unnecessarily painful, limiting and destructive” (p. 3-4).

All “therapies work with experience and its organization. But only a few work with it explicitly and consciously; call it that; make it primary; and have principles, methods, and techniques specifically designed to do so. Hakomi does” (p.4).

(This post is Part 2 of a two-part post titled Hakomi: The Organization of Experience. Read Part 1 here.)


References

Kurtz, R. S. (1985). The Organization of Experience in Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 3-9. 

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

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Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child, Part 2

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“Sometimes the child emerges at a distance. It comes as an image of a child. A client may report seeing herself as a child or remembering herself as a child,” which may indicate that she’s not “ready to actually experience the child” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 133-134). If so, then you can ask the client’s adult aspect to talk with the child to share what’s happening.

“When the image of the child appears at a distance, it may also be that the person doesn’t want to own that child, or hates the child, hates that part of herself. It’s important, then, to try a dialogue and eventual reunion with the child” (p. 134). One of Ron Kurtz’s clients made it clear that she preferred to keep her child buried, so he did an experiential exercise called “taking over” by having her try reaching out for it while he held her back.

While someone may intensely dislike her inner child, others may overvalue or be overidentified with it. “Even though child states can be problematic and limiting, it is possible to celebrate their positive origins and protective intent” (Morgan, 2015, p. 207). Assisting “the child aspects of the client to grow and become embodied and integrated with the functioning adult self, the therapist needs to” be sure that the client’s observer adult witness part is also there along with the child, so they are not overly identified with the child (p. 208). Grief around one’s losses needs to occur in addition to experiences of acceptance and self-love that are given and received in the present (Stark, 1994).

Mindfulness, as developed in Hakomi training, and with clients in psychotherapy, assists with the awareness of the adult witness and disidentification from wounded, desperate child aspects. “With the witness present, a therapist and client can be with intense longings, evaluate potential nourishment, and notice when the nourishment is accepted at a deep level” (Morgan, 2015, p. 208).

“The core beliefs of the child are held in state-specific consciousness and are usually not available in ordinary awareness. They are available in the state in which they were first learned. For transformation to occur, the client needs to be present with his or her child consciousness, so that these early beliefs can be fully accessed and processed” (p. 210). While “it is possible to do useful work with the child and core beliefs from the place of ordinary consciousness”, it won’t “have the same impact as working directly with the child state” (p. 210).

“The child is often accessible when a memory arises in the client. The therapist can expand the memory a little by asking for the age and setting while tracking emotional and bodily expression and accessing felt sense” (p. 210). He may use a probe or a contact statement like, “Your child is here now, huh(?).”

Ron Kurtz had the gift of being able to be “a magical stranger to the inner child” in an age-appropriate and nourishing way (p. 211). Going into the magical stranger mode and offering a “missing experience” can be quite powerful for a client. A therapist can become an unfamiliar, kind person who travels back in time and who can interact with the “frozen” child, providing novel and more corrective emotional experiences that were missing from earlier in life (Morgan, 2015).

Here are some guidelines for working with the inner child:

  1. Recognize the child as she appears in session by changes in voice, expression, posture, and so forth.
  2. Be interested in that child; hold the experience in present time.
  3. Acknowledge and validate the child’s experience directly.
  4. Talk directly to the child in simple, age-appropriate language. Attune carefully, maintaining tracking and contact.
  5. Ask the adult self for comments on how the child is responding in the moment and to nourishment.
  6. Check out feelings of the adult toward the child. If they are negative, there is a critical, defensive part present who is not able to show understanding and compassion toward the child. This part can be brought to the client’s consciousness.
  7. Encourage the child to name and express feelings and perceptions.
  8. In the case of overwhelming emotions, allow for some distance to the child part (e.g., imagining placing it far away or behind a window).
  9. Find out the meaning the child placed in the early situation.
  10. Let the child articulate her needs.
  11. Ask the compassionate adult self what the child needs to hear or know.
  12. Support emotional expression, as indicated.
  13. Be real, realistic, and genuine toward the child.
  14. Remember child-type thinking processes—magical, egocentric.
  15. Remember that the child is the map maker, forming the core models of self and the world used throughout life.
  16. Be attentive, validating, playful, compassionate, and creative, just as one would with a real child in the room. Draw on experiences with actual children. Adapt language and tone of voice according to what is age-appropriate (p. 213-214). 

Note: This post is Part 2 of Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child.

To learn more about Hakomi, please follow the tag #hakomi


References

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

Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (p. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Stark, M. (1994). Working with resistance. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. 

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Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Hakomi puts much importance on the non-ordinary state of consciousness called the “inner child.” Sometimes it is more in alignment with the adult self, other times not (Eisman, 1989).

“The goal of child development is individuation, a sense of the self as a unique and defined being, with mastery of the functional skills necessary to participate in and enjoy life. What the child is developing is his or her own uniqueness. In Hakomi terms, the child is striving to attain its own organicity” (Eisman, 1989, p. 10). As children, to attain individuation, we need unity with our caregivers. “Experiences that support our self-respect and individuation create positive core beliefs. Experiences that violate us create limiting core beliefs” (p. 11).

Experiences evoked in therapy frequently relate to early childhood. Through these experiences, the inner child can express herself. This expression happens spontaneously as a consciousness shift and emerges through an “influence of emotionally charged memories.”

“In remembering the feelings and events of childhood, we remember also the consciousness of childhood,” which is “another non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Ron Kurtz, 1990, p. 131). The child can and often does appear spontaneously in psychotherapy, and the therapist can assist it in emerging (p. 133).

Experiences learned in one state of consciousness might be hard to access from a different state of consciousness. Thus, a child who had early experiences, “was in a much different state of consciousness than the adult” she became. So much so that many adults have “difficulty remembering what they were like” as children. But it was “the child’s experiences that created the core material,” which influences adult present time experiences (p. 132).

Ideally, the individual in a “child state of consciousness” has not lost her connection to the present time situation, and the child she was and the adult she is are both present simultaneously (p. 132). As such, this could provide an opportunity to do some integration by helping a client relive painful experiences, watch them at the same time, understand the history, and combine “the emotional intensity of childhood with the reasoning capabilities of an adult” (p. 132).

The inner child and her experiences built her worldview and self-image, so by making contact and working with that child, you have the option of changing that worldview and self-image. Just by being there with her, by talking to her and explaining things, by being careful, patient, and concerned, just by doing that, you help change the way she feels about herself and the world. And by doing that, you help change the adult as well (Kurtz, 1990).

“Child consciousness may feel like part of an integrated life, or it can appear to limit and sabotage a satisfying adult life” (Morgan, 2015, p. 204). Some people can have child aspects that dominate their “adult self in present time,” and thus, they may seem childish, “too emotional, or overly dependent on others” (p. 205).


References

Eisman, J. (1989). The child state of consciousness and the formation of the self. Hakomi Forum, (7), 10-15.

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

Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Hakomi: Riding the Rapids

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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).


References

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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Hakomi: Deepening

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Once a client gets into a state of mindfulness through accessing, the objective is to stabilize and deepen that mindful state and utilize it for accessing core material. Building an alliance, relaxing control, and increasing feelings of safety will assist the client in retrieving material generally outside their awareness. The therapist and client are both involved in a conscious dialogue, as well as an unconscious one (Fisher, 2002; Kurtz, 1990).

To deepen the experience requires asking more precise questions. For example, if an answer to a question in the form of a probe was, ‘My face tingles,’ then a deepening question might be, ‘Which side of your face tingles more?’ Please note that the therapist does not necessarily need to know the answer to this question as it is simply a technique for deepening and stabilizing a state of mindfulness. It’s a useful way to make contact and two or three of these types of questions might be enough for a client to be able to go deeper with their experience (Kurtz, 1990).

A client often tends to go back and forth between mindfulness and ordinary consciousness. To avoid that, ask the client to stay with their present experience and avoid opening their eyes. With deepening, a client might initially only be mindful of trivialities, like about sensations in their body. It’s important to ask deepening questions about those sensations so that the client can get to the feelings underlying those sensations. “The overall shift in the course of deepening is from (1) thoughts and ideas, to (2) images, sensations and tensions, to (3) feelings, and finally to (4) whole memories, experiences and insights” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 122). Overall, the shift is from local tensions, sensations, and feelings to more whole-body experiences (Kurtz, 1990).

As the therapist works with a client, it’s valuable for them to ask what the missing experience is for the client. For example, what emotional needs did they not get met as a child? The missing experience is generally a variation of “being loved, accepted, heard and seen, valued, or acknowledged. By arranging for the missing experience to occur in therapy, the beliefs surrounding it are clarified, explored and challenged” (Fisher, 2002, p. 62). While someone often longs for this experience, they can still be very resistant to it (Fisher, 2002).

Sometimes clients won’t be able to stay in a state of mindfulness because they may be too tense, nervous or anxious. Then it’s important to talk about safety issues and find ways of reducing the tension. If that doesn’t work, then the client may need something else entirely, such as bodywork, a vacation, dietary changes, etc. before they are ready for Hakomi (Kurtz, 1990).

In deepening, there are four basic steps: (1) Contacting experience; (2) Adding mindfulness; (3) Immersion in the experience (for example, if a client feels sad then we want them to feel that sadness fully and attentively); and (4) Studying the subtle aspects of the experience or letting the experience elicit other related experiences. (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015).

The therapist uses “contact to focus, mindfulness to recognize, and immersion to stabilize.” These Hakomi techniques can help a client study their experiences and, therefore, gain clarity “to access their organizational core” (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015, p. 177). When one gets to the core, then the accessing and deepening is done and they can move to the next stage of Hakomi: processing (Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015).


References

Fisher, R. (2002). Experiential Psychotherapy with Couples: A Guide for the Creative Pragmatist. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen.

Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015). Accessing and Deepening. 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.

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Hakomi: Accessing

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“Gaining access is the process that unlocks the path to information not otherwise available” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 115). Accessing techniques and mindfulness are used in helping a client shift “from ordinary consciousness to mindfulness” or to the child state of consciousness (p. 115). In special or altered states of consciousness like mindfulness, the therapy process deepens by accessing core material, such as “beliefs, habits and memories that motivate and organize the client’s reactions” (p. 115). This material is not accessible within ordinary consciousness.

There are numerous ways to access altered states of consciousness, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, hypnosis, music and so on. Mindfulness is a way of focusing “on internal signals while lowering the noise” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 117). It includes a state of relaxation and involves removing outer or inner distractions that people ordinarily use as ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings (Kurtz, 1990, p. 166). Mindfulness is a present-moment experience as one cannot be mindful of the past or future. It involves shifting one’s attention away from a superficial discussion of one’s experience to a direct exploration of the present-time experience.

“The mindful qualities of slowing down, letting go of agendas, becoming open, receptive, exploratory, and befriending experience, as opposed to changing it, allow us to be present to immediate, felt experience in a way that opens a place of mysterious not-knowing, making the discovery of new material possible (Gaskin, Cole & Eisman, 2015, p. 163-164). To help people heal requires assisting them in entering one of these altered, special states. Once that state is accessed, then the client can process whatever comes up for them. Through mindfulness or accessing the witness state, they can notice how they are being impacted by what comes up for them. (Kurtz, 1990)

There are four principles related to accessing: safety, present experience, going slow, and nonviolence.

Safety

It is essential to hold a safe space for whoever one is working with. If a client doesn’t feel safe, then they won’t drop their external awareness. They won’t be trusting enough to go within. If accessing is a challenge for someone then asking them what needs to happen in order for them to feel safe could be helpful. Also, letting go of any need to get any particular response from a client is a requirement for the therapist. It is crucial to be accepting, loving and nonjudgmental. Clients do not need techniques that are insulting or deliberately create pain; they already have enough pain to deal with (Kurtz, 1990).

Present time experience

Present time experience is the second principle of accessing. This means helping a client to experience core material as a “felt reality, not as theory” (p. 119). Felt reality includes feelings, thoughts, moods and muscle tension as they are experienced right now.

It is important for the therapist to avoid following a client’s tendency to tell stories about their past, theorize and so on. The clinician needs to step out of the mode of polite, ordinary conversation, even if it seems interesting, and bring the client back to their concrete, present-time experience. This could involve asking for precise information regarding what is happening in the now. “For example, if someone says she’s sad, don’t ask what the sadness is about” as that leads to explanations but rather ask “‘What kind of sadness is it!’” (p. 119). This way, a client can go right back into her sadness more deeply and “with that search comes memories and finally, beliefs” (p. 119). “If the client is sad, we want her to feel that grief deeply, purely, attentively” (Gaskin, Cole & Eisman, 2015, p. 168). In nearly any moment, a clinician can ask a question that will redirect a client toward her present experience. The clinician will become “a psychological Aikido master” whenever they can take anything a client does or says and bring it back to present experience (Kurtz, 1990, p. 119).

Going Slowly

Awareness happens for the client at a slower speed. It’s important for the therapist to ask for information with sensitivity and respect, in ways that convey to a client that there is plenty of time. When the therapist slows down then they invite the client to go slow. “The tone of voice, the speed at which you talk, the gentleness with which you move” says to a client that it is safe for them to take their time and go within (Kurtz, 1990, p. 120).

Nonviolence

Nonviolence involves working gently with kindness and compassion, avoiding triggering defenses. If the client doesn’t feel entirely safe, then they will leave their inward experience and go outward to deal with the therapist. There are many, often subtler, levels of violence in psychotherapy including judgements, advice, plans, exclusivity and arrogance, all of which will trigger the defenses of a client. Being more inclusive and empowering the client to go wherever they need to go with their process, without feeling compelled to change them, helps provide them with the kind of support and acceptance they need (Kurtz, 1990).

During this whole accessing process, it is important to track the client’s signals regarding where they want to go and to make contact via contact statements (Kurtz, 1990). Additionally, the client’s body language, such as their tone of voice, rapidity of breath, facial expressions and key words, can reveal their core narrative traits (Kurtz & Prestera, 1984).


References

Gaskin, C. L., Cole, D. & Eisman, J. (2015). Accessing and Deepening. 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. & Prestera, H. (1984). The Body Reveals. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

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Hakomi: Taking Over

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taking over
(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Taking over is a Hakomi intervention technique, developed by the creator of Hakomi Ron Kurtz, where the therapist assumes there is inherent wisdom in a client’s defenses and helps out by “taking over” for her what she is already doing (Barstow & Johanson, 2015; Lavie, 2015).

Normally this is done in a state of mindfulness, except for the times when riding the rapids to support spontaneous behavior (Barstow & Johanson, 2015; Kurtz, 1990). Through this technique, the therapist assists the client by “making the work of self-discovery easier, safer and clearer” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 104).

As Kurtz began adapting his approach to therapy from earlier training in bioenergetics and Gestalt, among other modalities, he realized the importance of experimenting with mindfulness and supporting, rather than resisting, a client’s defenses (Lavie, 2015). When an “offer to take over is accepted,” a lot of the effort is taken out, lowering the noise and bringing blocked feelings into awareness (p. 102).

If a client responds to a probe with an inner voice, then the therapist can take over the voice and vocalize it for a client. Taking over can accomplish several things: 1) supporting a need for safety; 2) lowering the noise, thus increasing sensitivity; 3) creating distance as well as control of reactions; 4) supporting the healing relationship; 5) shifting awareness from defensiveness to the underlying “feelings, impulses, images and memories being defended against” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 102).

For example, if the client shares the thought, “I won’t cry,” the therapist can then ask the client to relax and notice what occurs for them when the therapist repeats the phrase out loud for them with a similar volume, intensity, and tone (Kurtz, 1990; Lavie, 2015).

Taking over occurred once with a woman who did a workshop with Kurtz. The woman’s daughter had been assaulted by a stranger in their home, and the daughter would stare at the door in her room and could not sleep at night. The mother tried to reassure her to no avail, so she finally said that she would watch the door and sit there all night without going away. Eventually, the daughter closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. The mother’s statement, “I’ll watch the door for you” is a good example of “taking over” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 110).


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.

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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Hakomi: Experimenting with Probes

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parenting

(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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