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 Organization of Experience

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(Photo Credit: rdonar)

By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Martin, D. (2016, October 27). What is Hakomi? Retrieved November 26, 2017, from

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