The Hakomi Way

By Donna Martin [1]

The Hakomi Method of psychotherapy has been described by its creator, Ron Kurtz, as a method of assisted self-study.  What Hakomi is interested in studying is the organization of experience.  To do this, Hakomi uses mindfulness – a kind of quiet, non-interfering attention to present moment experience – and little experiments to evoke experiences to study.  The attention in Hakomi is on present moment experience.

The Hakomi practitioner is trained to pay attention to two things about present experience:  first, what it is (ie. what is happening now), and second, how it is being organized.  We call this way of paying attention “tracking.”  First, we are tracking signs of the client’s present experience.  Experience is organized by habits.  Some habits create experiences of suffering, suffering which is, in effect, unnecessary.  This is the kind of experience that we can actually help the client with.  We can also help with the kind of suffering that is normal, like grief for the loss of a loved one.  If the client’s present experience is painful because of life events happening in the present time, we can offer compassion and comfort.  We also offer comfort when the client is experiencing emotional pain related to some past experience that has been brought to consciousness by the therapeutic work.  But normally, we are mostly interested in helping the client become awake in the present moment and aware of the possibility that some kind of nourishing experience, formerly unavailable, is available right now.

So, in Hakomi, we are not working on the person’s history.  We are, after all, only able to guess at someone’s history.  Even someone’s memory is not a reliable source of information about their history.  Remembering, however, is a present time experience and, as such, it can reveal how someone organizes experience.  It is organization of experience that we want to address as this is what causes unnecessary suffering in present time.

The Hakomi Way is grounded in spiritual understanding from Taoism and Buddhism.  Taoism teaches us that what happens is what happens.  There is no should or should not about what happens or what has happened.  We rest into things as they are and as they are unfolding.  Buddhism teaches us about wisdom and compassion.  As in Buddhism, we understand that the only reality is the present.  The past is a dream.  The future is a dream.  Only the present moment is real.

This is wisdom.  However, many of us continue to experience the present as if in a dream.  We are not fully awake to life as it is.  This ignorance and delusion also cause unnecessary suffering.  Experience is organized by habits and ideas.  When the ideas that organize our experience are operating outside of consciousness, they are called implicit beliefs.  When our actions are organized by behaviors that are on automatic, outside of conscious awareness, they are called reactions.  In Hakomi, we want to assist client to study present experience for clues about their implicit beliefs and the reactions that influence how they organize life experience.  We want to help clients discover nourishing experiences that they are not having in present time because of how they are organizing their experience.

There is some misunderstanding about what is meant by the missing experience in Hakomi.  Let me try to clarify.  Since Hakomi is a method that focuses on present experience, even what we mean by the missing experience is something happening (or not happening) in present time.  This might be related to childhood experiences, but those are outside our sphere of influence (unless we are working with an actual child).  The only place where we can realistically intervene is in present time.  When the adult client seems to be recalling a childhood experience, or accessing what we might call a child part, we are still focusing on present experience.  What is the person experiencing now as they are remembering?  How does the person seem to be organizing his or her experience based on behaviors or ideas that are outside of conscious awareness?  And what positive or nourishing experience is missing for the person, right now, because of how she or he is organizing experience?

Memory is one source of information about how someone is organizing experience.  Nonverbal behavior is perhaps a more accurate source.  Memory is a very unreliable source of accurate information about the past, but it can be a source of information about beliefs, especially when we pay attention to the person’s behavior for indicators of those habits and beliefs connected to the narrative elicited by the memory.

Hakomi was originally referred to as body-centered psychotherapy because the information about somone’s present experience and how someone is organizing experience is more available from nonverbal expression than from what the person can or does say in words.  So we are tracking nonverbal signs of present experience and indicators of how experience is organized.  In Hakomi, we contact present experience to let the person know that we are following, as well as to direct attention to present experience.  And we experiment with indicators to bring habits and beliefs that are organizing experience into consciousness.

In Hakomi, we often talk about the therapist following.  What we are following constantly are the signs of the client’s present moment experience.  We are accompanying the client on a journey.  Sometimes we follow the client and sometimes we lead (by invitation).  But we are constantly following the signs of his or her present experience and where it is going.

 

[1] Training Handbook for the Refined Hakomi Method, 2010. p.75. Available for purchase at www.hakomi.com.