The Hakomi Method
What Is It? (And Why Does It Have Such a Weird Name?)

Katie Cofer, MFT

 

In the San Francisco Bay Area, long known as a hotbed of innovative therapeutic approaches, an increasing number of psychotherapists in recent years have been adding the designation “Hakomi-trained” to their often already lengthy lists of credentials. This is undoubtedly due to the local availability of the excellent advanced training programs offered by the San Francisco Hakomi Institute (of which more later). Speaking for myself as a graduate of one of these trainings, I can say that some prospective clients contact me looking expressly for this kind of work, or are pleased to learn that I use this method, while others draw a complete blank. The approach is quite well known in Bay Area somatic and transpersonal therapy circles, for instance in the therapeutic communities around the graduate training programs of CIIS, JFK and ITP. For some therapy-seekers this might seem a good recommendation for a therapeutic approach; for others, it might make Hakomi seem a little “woo-woo”, one of those New Age therapies that appeals only to an esoteric few. So what is it really, this Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy?

Hakomi is an multifaceted system of therapeutic principles and techniques aimed at helping psychotherapy to go deeper and create more far-reaching results. One of many therapeutic methods to emerge from the hugely influential Human Potential Movement  in the 1960s and 1970s, it draws heavily on both the Gestalt Therapy of Fritz Perls and Zen Buddhism. Like Gestalt, it is a largely experiential method, interested more in generating experiences in the moment to access the unconscious and initiate more profound change.  Its overarching goals are to undo the ingrained characterological patterns of defense that restrict the unfolding of a client’s innate vitality, or organic self, and foster greater aliveness and fulfillment. With the body awareness and mindfulness that Hakomi uses as tools for self-exploration, clients who are feeling as though they’ve reached a plateau with traditional insight-oriented, talk therapy are often able to go deeper into their core issues and achieve more lasting, transformational change.

The heart of the Hakomi Method are the five Principles, which Hakomi therapists are taught not to employ just as techniques but to integrate into their way of being. The five Principles are: mindfulness, non-violence, organicity, mind-body connection, and unity. In Hakomi, mindfulness is both an internal attitude of the therapist and a technique for accessing deeper material. Since the therapist is working to get below the surface of the defenses, she is often more directive than in psychodynamic or person-centered approaches, but because of the principle of non-violence she strives to be less forceful than the sometimes very intense Gestalt approach.

The principle of organicity is about trusting and supporting the organic unfolding of the healing process in human beings. The notion of mind/body connection speaks to the way feelings are mirrored in the body, and can therefore be accessed through sensing into the body (which makes Hakomi a somatic therapy as well as a mindfulness-based one). Finally, the principle of unity extends this idea of interconnectedness to that of interrelationships between, and integration of, different parts and systems in biological, psychological and social realms.

Hakomi therapy focuses on how a person organizes his or her experience. That is, it studies how we create our present experience out of assumptions, which have hardened into character structure, based on early experiences. “The basic method,” writes its principal founder, Ron Kurtz, “is: create a relationship which allows the client to establish mindfulness, evoke experiences in that mindful state, and process the experiences evoked (Kurtz, p. 4).” What is really helpful about the Hakomi method for therapists is that it provides not only a theoretical and philosophical foundation, but also a very precise road map for where good therapy should go, as well as an extensive toolkit of interventions for how to get there.

So, a Hakomi client can expect to experience the following in therapy:

• Establishing a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship
• Observing nonverbal cues (such as body posture, facial expression, gestures, etc.) to obtain more information about unconscious material
• Gaining access to unconscious material through mindfulness
• Working with this material experientially
• Integrating the insights gained and finding application for them in one’s day-to-day life.

Hakomi provides another very useful aid to therapists in choosing interventions and calibrating them to their client’s specific needs. This comes in the form of a very detailed theory of character structure, which differentiates eight different character types, with very clear insights about etiology, core beliefs, habitual defenses, and techniques for working with them. This often helps therapists be able to zero in more precisely on the “missing experience” in a character type’s development, which, if the therapist is able to provide it in some real or symbolic form, can open up the defensive structure in a gentle yet dramatic way.

The original Hakomi Institute was founded by Ron Kurtz in Boulder, Colorado, in 1981. But other Hakomi Institutes have sprung up in the United States and abroad, sponsoring international training and conference activities, as well as a spin-off approach to trauma therapy called Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, developed by another of the early developers of Hakomi, Pat Ogden, with an Institute also in Boulder.

We are fortunate in the San Francisco Bay Area to have a very active local Hakomi Institute, blessed with gifted trainers who all have solid reputations as master therapists. The Hakomi Institute of San Francisco offers a number of different trainings each year, from one- or two-day introductory workshops to an eight-weekend Professional Skills training for established therapists, to a more inclusive, two-year “Comprehensive Training, as well as numerous workshops on special topics. (For more information, visit www.hakomicalifornia.org).

Oh, and what was it about that weird name? Ron Kurtz writes, “The word Hakomi came to me in a dream… We searched to find the meaning and found that it was a Hopi word meaning, “Who are you?” Another way Hakomi thinkers have phrased this is: “How do you stand in relation to these different realms?”

The Hakomi Method is for therapists and clients who want to translate the knowledge gained in deep inner exploration into concrete change and a new, more vitally alive way of being in the world.

Sources and Resources:

Ron Kurtz: Body-Centered Psychotherapy – The Hakomi Method.
Rob Fisher: Experiential Psychotherapy with Couples: A Guide for the Creative Pragmatist.

www.HakomiCA.org
www.hakomiinstitute.com
www.ronkurtz.com
www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org

This article was originally published in Bridge,
a newsletter connecting Bay Area professionals.


Katie Cofer, MFT (#35856) is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in San Francisco. Her work is based on a fundamental belief in the interconnectedness of mind, body, heart and spirit. She integrates relational talk therapy with somatic, transpersonal, and expressive arts approaches. She is trained in the Hakomi Method, an experiential, mindfulness-based and body-centered psychotherapy approach. She is also a practitioner of EMDR, a powerful technique that facilitates the clearing of traumatic memories and emotional stuck points. Through these processes of self-discovery and healing clients may feel more connected with their core self and regain access to their innate vitality and creativity. Some of Katie’s areas of expertise include trauma, depression, anxiety, phobias, unresolved grief, blocks to creativity, and cross-cultural issues. Katie also works with children and adolescents and is fluent in Spanish and German. She can be reached at 415-826-2951, or www.katiecofer.com.