(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).
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/