hakomi

Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

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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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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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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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).


References

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: Contact

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

At the level of technique in Hakomi, making contact and staying in contact involves using contact statements. A contact statement succinctly summarizes the situation the client is describing after the client has spoken and then paused, waiting for the therapist to respond. Without interrupting, the therapist offers a simple, direct statement like, for example, “sad, huh” in response to the present-time experience like sadness that the client is sharing. Other examples of contact statements include: “that surprised you, didn’t it”, “that’s scary, isn’t it” or “that was intense, huh” “A statement like ‘you seem a little nervous to me,’ offered without judgment and without breaking the rhythm of the other’s presentation, is a way of making feelings real, okay to have and okay to talk about” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 80). Also, after offering a contact statement, it is important for the therapist to pause and wait for the client to respond (Kurtz, 1990).

“Verbal contact is naming the client’s present experience. We contact something we have tracked, something the other person is doing, feeling, or focusing on in the moment” (Martin, 2015, p. 155). This may be something she is aware of or it may be outside her awareness. It’s important to not contact the story or content of what the client is saying, except to let her know that you are listening and following her. Contact statements let a client know you are hearing what she’s sharing and are present in a heart-centered way, interested, nonjudgmental and understanding her inner experience and feelings (Martin, 2015).

“A contact statement is open-ended, almost like a question” (Martin, p. 155-156, 2015). But contact statements are not questions as asking a question indicates that the therapist doesn’t know what’s going on for a client and therefore isn’t really in contact. Questions interfere with spontaneity. Questions also involve thought and distance but contact statements involve experience and intimacy (Kurtz, 1990).

An important part of a therapist’s job is to create safety for the client to dig deeper. By “letting them be, by supporting them taking the lead if they will,” you assist them in feeling safe and understood (Kurtz, 1990, p. 80). If a client is quiet then the therapist can meet them in that quiet place by saying something like, “It’s hard to talk about it, isn’t it?” or “hard to talk, huh” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 80, 82). Statements like these address what is going on for a client in the present time.

Also, a contact statement needs to be worded in a way that allows a client to disagree if they want to. We don’t want disagreements but, in therapy, the client is “automatically right” because it’s the client’s experience (Kurtz, 1990, p. 82). It is much more important to have safety and win the cooperation of the client than for the therapist to be right (Kurtz, 1990).

Finally, using contact statements for someone in a crisis situation may not be appropriate since the goal is to stabilize rather than explore deeper wounds and core beliefs. For example, using a contact statement might be too powerful of a tool to use with a more fragile psyche like that of a paranoid client. But to just hold a space and trust that what is coming up for them is a part of their healing process will have a positive impact. You can subtly mirror and adjust your body language and speech to be congruent with whomever you are working with. Clients feel this regardless of whether or not one ever uses a contact statement (Moody, 2013).


References

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-centered psychotherapy: the Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Martin, D. (2015). The skills of tracking and contact. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 151-160). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Moody, J. (2013, March 8). Using Hakomi with clients with chronic mental illness. Retrieved from http://joannamoody.net/blog/using-hakomi-with-clients/

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Hakomi: Tracking and Loving Presence

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Tracking

Tracking is a skill involving following the flow of the client’s present time experiences and “taking in information about the client on as many levels as possible” (Martin, 2015, p. 152). It relates to the ways the therapist notices “the outward signs of the client’s internal, present-moment experience and the way her experience seems to be organized by core beliefs and habits” (p. 151).

To practice tracking effectively, what is most important is the therapist’s state of mind (Martin, 2015). Tracking involves constantly observing and reading the signs like in “tracking an animal through the woods” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 75). It’s a way to be with someone with curiosity and interest. “It is not about the content of” a client’s story (p. 75). Tracking is about noticing indicators of what is happening for a client in the present including signs “like moist eyes, all kinds of facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures (small or large, but especially small), changes in posture, movements, even the style of a movement or a voice” (p. 83).

Tracking is the way the therapist sets up experiments to see “much more than the verbal story being told” (Martin, 2015, p. 152). The therapist takes in information from things like “tone of voice, pacing, gestures, posture, facial expressions” and more of the client’s inner world (p. 152). The therapist learns to read these sometimes very subtle signs constantly during therapy sessions. The therapist has the dual task of being mindful of a client’s inner experiences while also being able to see that from a larger, more holistic perspective (Kurtz, 1990).

Loving Presence

One is able to observe and track another more adeptly after first mindfully noticing and watching over their own automatic tendencies, state of mind “and habits of perception,” including reactions (Martin, 2015, p. 152-153). Ron Kurtz created a practice called “loving presence,” which helps shift the therapist’s attitude in ways that cultivate “a state of mind most conducive to working with others in a healing way” (p.152-153).

The second step of loving presence is to create a spaciousness that clears away habitual attitudes and projections, which can block clear perception. In this spaciousness, we are able to be more receptive, intuitive and appreciative (Johanson, 2008).

Next, we as therapists can set the “intention to see something in the other that inspires us. We invite and search for those qualities in the other that nourish us – qualities like courage, vulnerability, sensitivity, gentleness, determination and intelligence” (Martin, 2015, p. 153).

Out of this, a client can start to realize, unconsciously initially, that it is safe to reveal herself. “She feels invited, accepted and appreciated, and begins to express even more of herself” (p. 153). As this happens, the therapist notices and feels inspired and nurtured. A reinforcement cycle occurs, which deepens the relationship and supports a context that allows for additional insights and spontaneity to happen.


References

Johanson, G. J. (2008). Artistic Inspirations: False Colors. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 11(3), 28.

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

Martin, D. (2015). The skills of tracking and contact. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 151-160). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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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).


References

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 https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/ron-kurtz-hakomi-therapy

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