Despite my decades of training and practice in psychotherapy, I had not heard of Hakomi therapy until a couple of years ago, when a client asked me about it. The client studied Taoist philosophy and mindfulness and was wondering if anyone in the area practiced Hakomi. I was intrigued and began to search for information, and was delighted when this book became available.
While the main authors are Halko Weiss, Greg Johanson, and Lorena Monda, twenty-three writers contributed to this work, including the founder of Hakomi, the late Ron Kurtz. They come from all over the world.
I am drawn to Hakomi because of its use of the body in therapy. What neuroscience, my clients, and self examination teach me more and more is that the mind-body dichotomy is a false one. I have seen people who had epiphanies about their behavior and decision making — but who were then unable to move the insight from their heads to their hearts. Ron Kurtz recognized that long ago. He took therapy beyond just talk and involved the whole person.
Hakomi takes into account that we carry our memories and traumas and feelings in our physical bodies. The system that we live in is nonlinear and our experiences are processed “from within and without.”
As the book puts it, “We do not merely live in the world, we live in the world as we view it, construct it, or interpret it.” We construct our reality based on our core beliefs. Our experiences along the way affect that construct, but that construct and those core beliefs begin forming before we have conscious memory and the ability of language. Among the principles emphasized over and over again in the book is that insight is not enough. It takes experience to modify experience.
I love the respect that Hakomi has for clients. Defensiveness is not seen as denial or rationalization or some mechanism. Defensiveness is met with compassion and curiosity, and the therapist helps the client explore where the defense is coming from, and realizes that the defense is there for a reason.
One thing I noticed while working in a traditional “denial busting” substance-abuse model many years ago is that the harder therapists pushed against defenses, the better those defenses could become. After all, the defense was there to protect the person. Hakomi places a great emphasis on the state of mind of the therapist and the relationship with the client.
Hakomi also looks at actions as skillful or not skillful and realizes that the flow of the process is not the same for every client — and that it even changes over the course of a single session. What is important is trust, nonviolence, mindfulness of both the therapist and client, and staying with the nonlinear and organic process. One of the principles is that a system cannot change within itself, and one of the processes is called JOOTS, or “jumping out of the system.” This can help us to break the pattern of repeating the same thing over and over again.
Therapists who use Hakomi conduct experiments with clients to help them find patterns and systems on a deep level and to begin to change. How many times has someone tried a “geographic cure” only to wind up in the same situation with the same types of people in the new place? Hakomi helps a person where she or he is.
The book contains extensive information on how Hakomi came to be, as well as its theoretical underpinnings, methods and therapeutic strategies, and techniques and interventions. Hakomi draws from many, many theories and philosophies both eastern and western. It was one of the first, if not the first, to specifically emphasize mindfulness.
The book also includes many stories and examples of the therapy itself. It sounds like it takes very disciplined and skillful therapists to practice Hakomi. This extensive book can teach you much about it, but to practice Hakomi, you need to study with a Hakomi teacher.
The final chapter is on research and historical context. Weiss and Johanson state that despite over 2,500 studies on the efficacy of mindfulness in therapy, there needs to be more studies specifically on Hakomi. The authors do point out that outcome measures can and are used in Hakomi. Perhaps the accumulation of positive outcomes will put Hakomi into the category of, as Scott Miller calls it, practice-based evidence. Whether you intend to learn Hakomi or not, this book is a worthwhile read to expand your knowledge of how we change.
Hakomi Mindfulness-Centered Somatic Psychotherapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice
W. W. Norton & Company, May 2015
Paperback, 432 pages