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Hakomi: Experimenting with Probes

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(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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Hakomi: Contact

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(Picture Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree)

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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