How Do Smells Trigger Emotions?

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Smell is perhaps the most mysterious out of the six senses. It has proven crucial to human survival throughout the ages and has definite links in emotion and memory. Recalling specific memories is difficult based on smell alone, especially with more obscure scents picked up at seemingly unrelated times and locations. Regardless of one’s ability to trace memories with smell alone, the emotions associated with them are real.

The power of smell is more prominent in our lives than one may think.
Most of us are well aware of the connection between our sense of smell and ability to recall emotions. This can happen by stumbling upon a similar smell by chance or through mediums such as perfume to enforce emotions linked to memories where the scent was present (Bergland). For example, the aroma of certain foods from childhood can bring back memories of home or loved ones. The smell of familiar scents can help place us in a specific mood.

The amygdala, the area in the brain where emotions are processed, and the hippocampus where memories are formed, are closely linked with where the brain processes smell, or the olfactory bulbs (Saplakoglu). Emotions aid in telling us to avoid or approach certain things, a familiar trait in our sense of smell. Understanding the chemical processes that occur when we pick up certain odors is important in dealing with memory and emotion in context.

It is easy to forget the strong role smell plays in our feelings, but it can be a helpful tool to get in a certain mindset thanks to the memories associated with certain scents. Things like perfume and incense are not only capable of bringing about pleasant scents but can also shift our mood and help us relax. When smelled at a specific time, scents tend to place people in the same emotion they felt when they smelled it the first time. For some, the human sense of smell can be hard to describe and tends to bring out more raw emotions due to the vivid yet mysterious sensation smelling things can induce. So, let’s make sure to stop and smell the roses every once in a while!


Bergland, Christopher. “How Does Scent Drive Human Behavior?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 June 2015,

Saplakoglu, Yasemin. “Why Do Smells Trigger Strong Memories?” LiveScience, Purch, 8 Dec. 2019,

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Hakomi: The Essential Process

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Three Ways to Improve Your Memory

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

With all the stressors in life, it is common to sometimes have a difficult time remembering simple day-to-day details. There are many things that can affect memory, including sleep, stress and mood. People of all ages can experience difficulties in this area at various points in their life, but luckily, there are various skills that may help people improve their ability to retain and retrieve information.

Listed below are a few practices that can help improve your memory:

  1. Stop multitasking: This is something I tell my clients to do in order to keep their anxiety under control, but it can also help you stay more focused on a task, which can allow you to have a stronger memory of what you are working on. Being fully present during a task, physically and mentally, will improve your memory and overall mental well-being.
  2. Use memory tricks: There are several memory tricks that help your brain retrieve information readily.
    • Repeating what you hear out loud multiple times helps your brain record the memory, increasing the likelihood that you will remember it.
    • Associating new and old information can be helpful in allowing retrieval of information since it connects new information with something your brain is already familiar with. You can do this by creating a story around what you would like to remember.
    • Keeping a to-do list on your phone seems like a no-brainer, but it is important because humans are better at recognition than recalling information. Your list can either be handwritten or typed on your phone, as long as it is handy.
    • Breaking information up into smaller sections also helps when needing to store large quantities of facts and details. Sometimes looking at a large section of information can be overwhelming, so it is important to organize the information in a way that helps you remember it.
  3. Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness skills have been shown to improve memory and allow people to focus on tasks without allowing their minds to wander. In one study, a group of students enrolled in a two-week mindfulness course was compared to a control group that did not take the class. The group that participated in the mindfulness class had higher scores in reading comprehension on the GRE and reported being less distracted during the exam than the other group.You can practice mindfulness skills with simple meditations in which you focus on your breath and scan your body to notice any sensations that arise. This is a practice of staying present and also emphasizes focused-attention.


“4 tricks to rev up you memory.” (July 2017). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from

Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S. Phillips, D. T., Baird, B. & Schooler, J. W. (March 28 2013). Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering. Association for Psychological Sciences. 24(5), 776-781. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612459659

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