The Hakomi method
By: Sabina Suehnel, M.A.
Since the 1960s, many psychotherapists have
begun to include the body in their healing work
(Gestalt, Bioenergetics) and have pointed to
the physical component of psychological patterns.
In alignment with some of these earlier body-
centered methods, Hakomi is based on the
assumption that mind and body are interdependent
and influence one another.
In developing Hakomi, the psychotherapist Ron Kurtz
(1990) expresses particular interest in the
impact of important - often unconscious -
memories, feelings, and images upon all the
different levels of physiology ranging from blood
flow and muscle tone to body posture and breathing
rhythm. The principles applied in Hakomi are
taken from various body-centered psychotherapies
such as Bioenergetics, Gestalt, Reichian work,
Feldenkrais, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP),
Ericksonian hypnotherapy as well as meditative
practices. This type of psychotherapy stresses
nonverbal interaction, direct experiences, and
trust in the intrinsic healing potential of the
Hakomi therapists aim to facilitate healing
and personal growth by using somatic awareness.
Automatic response patterns can be made more
tangible by pointing out a posture or tension in
the body that accompanies a particular thought.
Postures, gestures, movement, breathing, and
sensations are viewed as signs of a person’s
inner experiencing. A person might, without
any conscious experience of fear or anger,
talk calmly about an unpleasant encounter, while
tensing the body, clenching the jaw, and making
a fist. Following not only the content of a story,
but also tracking any kind of physical changes
(sweating, breathing, or teary eyes), is viewed
as a pathway for the therapist into the client’s
unique internal world of meanings. Similarly,
the focus on thoughts and images often leads to
strong emotionally charged somatic sensations.
In this sense, the Hakomi therapist shifts back
and forth between bodily experiences and mental
processes. The integration of mind and body can
offer not only heightened self-awareness, but also
insight into the underlying motivations of one's
actions along with ways to influence them.
Therapists trained in Hakomi avoid analyzing
and interpreting a client’s reality. Instead,
the emphasis is on self-discovery grounded in
experiences in the present moment. Processes
shift from “talking-about” difficulties
to an embodied inquiry of one’s inner life.
For the client, the ability to be self-observing
is indispensable. Most of the techniques are
used to focus awareness and to deepen into present
perception. The therapeutic process can be
compared to a guided self-discovery, which
leaves the choice of issues and the level of
depth primarily with the client.
Hakomi acknowledges the positive aspects of
defensive behaviors. Knowledge of these
“character strategies” (Kurtz, 1990) provides
a point of reference for the particular style
unconsciously applied by the individual to cover
uncertainties about him or herself and others.
Hakomi therapists believe that every individual
has the wisdom and resources to find answers to
his or her most urgent questions. Thus,
interventions do not aim to solve problems or
“fix” the client’s life. Undergoing difficulties
does not mean that there is something wrong with
this individual as a human being. Instead,
the therapist meets the client with the attitude
that the momentary crisis offers an opportunity
to develop a deeper understanding of one’s inner
nature. Therapists need to keep a frame of
mind open to encounter concrete individuals with
pains and struggles as well as creative potentials
instead of becoming fixated on defensive behavioral
patterns and strategies to approach them. While
interacting with clients, it is important to shift
the focus beneath the problems and make contact with
the hopeful and alive parts inside.
Once a person has had a glimpse of an internal
reality beyond the pain or numbness, the
cycle of distorted perception and automatic
response patterns becomes disrupted, which
enhances flexibility and choice of actions
in the world.