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What is the Hakomi Method? Discover this Therapy

Although it may seem unorthodox when compared to traditional talk therapy, (it involves touch and positive affirmations on the part of the practitioner) Hakomi therapy is an alternative, “experiential” psychotherapy approach that attempts to aid psychological growth.

Developed by Ron Kurtz in the late 1970s, Hakomi therapy combines a number of different principles and styles, fusing Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism with other body-centered therapies.

It uses a somatic-based approach designed to aid psychological development. At the core of Hakomi is the belief that the body harbors internalized beliefs and thought patterns that have become unconscious

Trained Hakomi therapists can use consensual touch to help comfort patients and encourage them to stay with the unpleasant feelings to uncover and understand these unconscious limiting beliefs.

Hakomi therapy is unique in that it seeks to befriend, rather than try to eliminate, uncomfortable elements of the human experience, such as vulnerability and pain.

La terapia Hakomi mezcla elementos de la psicoterapia con la filosofía oriental.

Hakomi therapy is guided by a set of basic principles designed to help both the therapist and the client:

  • Mindfulness: mindfulness refers to a state of presence and inner focus. The intention of generating this state is to help the client identify the sensations they are experiencing. This state of mindfulness can help bring unconscious things into awareness.
  • Organicity: According to Hakomi therapy, as organic beings, humans are inherently capable of self-correction and healing. Hakomi therapists are simply there to assist this natural healing process that already exists in all human beings.
  • Non-violence: The principle of non-violence is twofold. It refers to the therapist allowing the process of the session to unfold naturally without interference. It also refers to the Hakomi approach of not perceiving defenses or other barriers as something to be removed by force, but rather as defenses designed to protect the individual.
  • Mind-body integration: Mind-body integration refers to the idea that the body, mind and soul combine and work together to influence an individual’s perception of self, others and the world they inhabit. One of these parts is not more influential than the other, so it is important to examine all three to understand a person and his or her beliefs.
  • Oneness: Oneness is the view that the patient is composed of interdependent parts. All of these parts exist to form the whole person.

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It is important to understand that therapists are individuals and may alter some of the techniques they use over time to meet what they perceive to be the needs of their clients.

That said, Hakomi-trained therapists generally follow a sequence in their sessions based on four different components:

  • Contact: this is a process in which the therapist tries to create and establish a comfortable and safe environment for the client. A safe environment is one in which the client is most willing to participate.
  • Access: Access is the phase of the session in which mindfulness is used to uncover unconscious beliefs. The therapist can help create a state of mindfulness by asking the patient to become aware of what he or she is feeling.
  • Processing: In this phase, the therapist examines the patient’s experiences and responses and helps the patient create new experiences. This is where somatic experience is used to deepen the imagery and sensations. At this time, therapists may use “experiments” to create an element of self-awareness in the patient. For example, a therapist may ask, “What happens inside you when you hear ‘you are safe here’?” This helps to elicit an internal response from the client, giving them the opportunity to explore what they are feeling and experiencing.
  • Integration: The therapist works with the client to unpack and make sense of the session’s findings and help the client make new connections. Integration is an opportunity to offer practical advice on how this new information can be beneficial in the real world.

There is some evidence that body-centered psychotherapies, such as Hakomi, are helpful in certain mental health conditions. Beyond this, it may be useful in helping in other situations, including:

  • Couples work
  • Parenting
  • Family dynamics
  • Spiritual studies
  • Multiculturalism
  • Business counseling
  • Gender issues

Although there is not much research on the long-term effects of Hakomi therapy, there are some potential short-term benefits:

  • Increased body awareness: this may be helpful for trauma survivors who perhaps hold tension in certain areas of their body.
  • Improved therapeutic awareness: This means it can help patients be more aware and in the moment during their therapy sessions. This can make talk therapy much more effective, and can help patients feel more present.
  • Increased comfort with others: Because this therapy uses touch, many practitioners have found that the hands-on approach improves patients’ comfort level with others. This is especially important for some who have suffered trauma or abuse and may have trouble connecting.

At present, there is not much research on the effectiveness of Hakomi therapy. However, there is some evidence that therapies such as Hakomi have been helpful in depression, anxiety and ADHD.

As with all therapies, reactions and comfort levels are very individual. Some of the potential issues noted with Hakomi may include that clients may have a tendency to experience discomfort with physical contact, as it can potentially trigger increased distress and “body memories” in susceptible individuals.

In addition, this approach can be difficult for individuals with certain psychological organizations, such as those found in some personality disorders.

Individuals interested in pursuing Hakomi therapy can find a directory of practitioners at the Hakomi Institute. It is important to consider personal limitations and boundaries before meeting with a Hakomi therapist, including your feelings about contacting a professional.

Potential clients with specific needs should talk to, and essentially interview, a potential Hakomi specialist and ask about the therapist’s training and experience with that particular issue. For example, a person with an addiction should ask the specialist beforehand if he or she is qualified to work with someone with an addiction.

It is also important to understand that specialists trained in Hakomi therapy are not necessarily trained in other types of psychotherapy by extension; they may be, but it is not guaranteed. However, it can be integrated into the work of many different styles of therapy.

Training as a certified Hakomi specialist does not mean that they can work with specific conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, or any other psychiatric diagnosis. For this reason, it is important for potential clients to discuss pre-existing conditions and concerns with a Hakomi therapist to learn about their strengths and potential limitations before considering a working relationship.

Ismael Abogado

Ismael Abogado

Psychologist and constant learner of the mind and soul.

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