The Hakomi Method in a nutshell (Ron Kurtz)
Our actions are mostly automatic
Our actions and thoughts are largely habitual, that is, they are not planned or deliberately undertaken. We may have some purpose, such as driving to work. But once we leave, our habits will be responsible for 90% of what we need to do to get there. Also, while driving, we may be listening to music, talking on our mobile phone, or having a long conversation with someone in our head, rehearsing what should be said or repeating something we did or did not say yesterday. Thinking about all the things we do without thinking or planning, you might wonder who, if anyone, is in charge!
Habits, beliefs and convictions…
Let’s look at some particularly important habits as those that strongly influence our choices. These habits involve beliefs (habitual thoughts) and convictions, which are thoughts with strongly felt reactions associated with them. We all have beliefs about who we are and what we can anticipate about people, life and ourselves. We all have deep beliefs about what is real and valuable.
We usually act on these beliefs without questioning them or even knowing what they are. We have learned many of these habits in the same way that we learned to speak the language and grammar of our mother tongue: we did so by imitation and through our interactions with others. We have instituted these habits without examining them critically. We kept what we tried and found to work, long before we had the maturity to understand what we were doing.
…that are no longer useful
Some of these habits are no longer useful. We are not in the same situation at all. We are no longer that child in need of guidance. But the habits remain. These deep habits are our way of being in the world. They strongly influence, in turn, the world we create around us. Aristotle said: “You are what you constantly repeat”.
As people (patients), in order to change some of these old, deeply ingrained habits, we first need to know what they are. We need to examine them and understand them. Then we need to try something else. All this requires real courage, intelligent support and an emotionally safe environment.
This is what the Hakomi therapist does for us:
- creates a calm and caring relationship in which we do the work we need to do
- helps us to understand who we are at these very deep levels
- offers us the opportunity to initiate new actions based on more realistic beliefs and leading to more nourishing experiences. It’s a perfect method for this.
As Hakomi therapists, we have important things to practice. We have to practice being loving. We train our mind to be continuously present. We want to learn how to cultivate this state of mind, which is called loving presence. We also learn to recognize the external signs of the person’s present experience as well as deep and distant beliefs and, in particular, the habitual expressions of these beliefs manifested in non-verbal ways.
We use these habits to help the person discover who they are. We also have specific methods. One of these is a practice called mindfulness. In mindfulness, someone simply notes, without interference, the changes that occur in their experience. The person learns to be in this state of mind for short periods.
As they enter this state, we do “small experiments” designed to evoke reactions that help the person become aware of their deepest beliefs. Experiments are always voluntary and safe, and they suggest a positive and emotionally nourishing idea or action. They have the effect of bringing to consciousness any resistance to what is being offered. In mindfulness, people easily notice any resistance.
What we do in a Hakomi Session
Let’s say a patient, for example, has a physical habit of always (or most of the time) looking at the therapist with a skeptical nod and a sideways glance. Hakomi therapists will probably read these habits as indicators of a belief – perhaps that people cannot be trusted.
Experiments in Mindfulness…
To test this idea, the therapist will first ask the patient to access mindfulness.
(This may be someone who already knows how to do this, feels safe enough and is curious to see what it is like. And this will happen when the therapist and patient have already established a good working relationship).
The therapist will then say, in a neutral and gentle voice, something like: “You can trust me” or “I won’t hurt you”. In response, the patient may note a spontaneous thought such as: “No, I can’t!” or, at the second suggestion: “Yes, you will! Or there may be no thought at all; the person may simply feel fear. Or he or she may remember being betrayed by a significant other.
Such reactions will lead to awareness, clarity and understanding. This is how the method makes the unconscious conscious. This is how the freedom to change begins.
…create reactions that bring awareness and possibilities to change
When these reactions come to consciousness, we seek to formulate them clearly. This part of the process is called the search for meaning. We want these memories to be examined by the conceptual mind. Habits and deep-seated beliefs are rooted in emotion and are often no longer relevant. Simply examining them consciously can initiate the process of change. The small experiments we propose often arouse painful emotions, sometimes very painful. When this happens, we offer the comfort of a hand gesture or an approach. The person’s acceptance of physical comfort allows them to relax and deal more easily with what they are feeling. The inner work will be effortless. We simply offer the emotional support that was obviously missing during the primary events that created the central issues.
Working with beliefs and emotions, with our without touch
The first experience does not always evoke intense emotions or deep beliefs. The first experiments usually only help the therapist and the patient to get some inner reactions. The process will eventually (after a few minutes or after several sessions) lead to an experimentation that will trigger a powerful reaction revealing a deep problem and/or evoking strong emotions. We will again offer emotional support. At this stage we seek relief and understanding for the person. We want to help them make sense of it all. By doing this, we have already started to create the missing experience in the original situation. The emotional support and understanding that loving, intelligent adults could have provided was not available. Something painful, frightening or senseless happened. Because of the resulting habits, some nurturing experiences were never possible.
Finding the Missing Experience
When the first situations experienced have created a habit of distrust, it may be impossible to be comfortable in an intimate situation. Trust is a missing experience. After the old habits have become clear to the person, new experiences become possible. Old ways of being and old ideas can be challenged. We want to offer people a chance to experience what they have been missing all their lives. Their lives change when they do. A new world opens up.
It was once said that: “Every act of knowledge creates a whole new world”. This is clearly what happens at this stage of the therapeutic process. From this point on, people need support to continue to put their new nourishing beliefs into practice in their current lives. They need therapeutic support until the new beliefs themselves become habits and fade from consciousness again. At that point the work is complete.
“Because we are changing each other’s brains through the limbic review, what we do in a relationship matters more than any other aspect of human life.