What is Hakomi therapy?
The Hakomi method is a body-focused and mindfulness-based approach to therapy. It draws on aspects of Western therapies and Eastern philosophy. Therapist Ron Kurtz developed the approach in the 1970s, with contributions from other practitioners, including Pat Ogden, who went on to develop sensorimotor therapy.
The Hakomi method is an experiential therapy. This means that changes are brought about by the experiences you have in the present moment. The experiences of the body are the key focus. The body is thought to be a resource that holds information, like memories and beliefs. These are thought to influence our thinking, emotions and actions on a daily basis, but without our conscious awareness.
Hakomi therapy helps you to identify these experiences and bring them into your conscious awareness. Mindfulness is the primary tool used for this assisted self-discovery. Your therapist helps you to mindfully experiment with body experiences and information, and develop new, helpful core beliefs.
The Hakomi method is used in both individual and group therapy.
Effectiveness of Hakomi therapy
It’s hard to say definitively how effective Hakomi therapy is because limited research is currently available.
That said, Hakomi therapy shows promise as a treatment. Research into the effectiveness of body-focused psychotherapies generally indicates that participants do show improvements in symptoms of depression and anxiety. (1)
What Hakomi therapy can help with
Although more research is needed to determine how effective it is, Hakomi therapy has been used to help people with:
Hakomi therapy has also been used to work with trauma. In such cases, it’s important that therapy is carried out carefully and appropriately to avoid the possibility of harmful re-traumatization.
How Hakomi therapy works
The Hakomi method enables a change in what therapists call ‘core material’. Core material consists of memories, images, beliefs, neural patterns and emotions, which often date back to childhood events.
Our core material is thought to influence our individual and unique thoughts, attitudes, perceptions and behavior. However, it typically does this unconsciously - without us necessarily being aware of its influence.
Some core material is thought to have a helpful influence on who we are, whereas other material is unhelpful. Hakomi therapy helps you to become aware of your core material, distinguish between helpful and unhelpful components, and change unhelpful aspects.
This awareness and change in core beliefs are achieved by working with the body using mindfulness.
Principles of Hakomi therapy
Hakomi therapy sessions are based on the following principles:
- Mindfulness: This alert state helps people to become aware of and explore their experiences and core material in a nonjudgemental and curious manner.
- Non-violence: Drawing on Buddhist principles, Hakomi therapy encourages the safe and non-forceful exploration of your core material.
- Unity: The Hakomi method takes a holistic approach to wellbeing, aiming to integrate all aspects of our experience. This includes physical, interpersonal, cultural, spiritual and family aspects.
- Organicity: Hakomi therapy assumes that we have an inner wisdom that can guide us, and therapy supports people to access and use this system.
- Mind-body integration: In the Hakomi method, both the body and mind hold and reflect our core beliefs, which influence our behavior. Therapy explores the mind and body connection to help you to become more aware of your core material.
What happens in a typical Hakomi therapy session
Building a safe and trusting relationship is an important aspect of successful Hakomi therapy. Therapists create a relationship with an attitude of care and acceptance, called ‘loving presence’.
Your therapist helps you to become aware of your core material and understand how it shapes your current experience. To do this, they may invite you to become mindful, focusing on what is happening in your body in the present moment. Rather than being used as a specific meditation exercise, the whole session typically proceeds in a state of mindfulness.
The therapist might help you to bring up your core material by asking you to experiment with changing a physical aspect of your experience. The therapist observes your bodily responses and may bring them into your awareness, so that you can mindfully pay attention to them.
With your consent, some therapists may also use touch to help heal the mind/body split, or as a way of communicating or providing nourishment for an unmet need. They might ask you to experiment with new beliefs in your mindful state.
Hakomi founder, Ron Kurtz, explains the types of experiments used:
“There are two types of experiments: one where the client is passive (mindful, still) and the therapist does something, a probe (statement), a touch, walks towards the client, closes his or her eyes, etc. In the second type, we ask the client to be active and do something like: "notice what happens when you slowly make a fist." "See what words come up when you tighten your body in the way you feel it tightening when you think of being at work." We're not asking the client for an answer to a question. We're asking for a report on what's experienced.”
The therapist will help you to understand and make sense of your experiences in these experiments, and integrate what you learn into your life.
What to look for in a Hakomi therapist
Consider the following factors during your search for a Hakomi method therapist:
A current license
Look for a mental health professional with a current license. This ensures that your therapist has completed the appropriate level of education to practice. When browsing through therapists on Zencare, you can rest assured that our therapists have already been vetted.
The Hakomi method should be provided by a therapist who has completed specialized training. Check that your prospective therapist has completed training through the Hakomi Institute and has official certification.
It can be helpful to take a look at therapists’ biographies. This is often where they note their experience and specializations.
Prioritize the potential for developing a strong working relationship between you and your therapist. This trusting relationship, called the “therapeutic alliance” can have a significant impact on the effect of therapy.
The caring relationship with your therapist, or ‘loving presence’, is considered to be a particularly important aspect of Hakomi therapy.
Talk in advance
The best way to gauge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. Most therapists will be happy to do so. This gives you the opportunity to ask about your therapist’s:
- Education and qualifications
- Hakomi method training and certification
- Experience with Hakomi therapy
- Experience working with people whose concerns are similar to yours
- What therapy with them will be like
- Their participation in insurance plans and cost of therapy
It’s a good idea to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.
Sources and references
- Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Body Psychotherapy in Outpatient Settings (EEBP) (PDF)
- Hakomi Institue, “About the Method”
- Hakomi Institue, “About Hakomi Therapy”
- The Hakomi Institute
- Hakomi: Strengths and Limitations (PDF)