Hakomi: Accessing

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

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.


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 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).


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: The Principles, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Hakomi Institute. (2015). The Hakomi Principles. Retrieved from

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

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

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Healing with Hakomi, Part 1

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(Photo Credit: Kitja Kitja)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hakomi Institute. (2015). Memoriam to Ron Kurtz. Retrieved from

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

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

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