Hakomi Method and Process – The Flow of the Method
While each client and session is of course unique, the Method typically follows a time-proven general pattern of working. This includes the following elements, described in sequence below:
Establish Relationship • Create safety within the relationship and within the client • Elicit Mindfulness • Immerse in and study present experiences to access and reveal the organizing core material • Process the specific states and content of the core material • Transform the core templates that shape limiting experience • Integrate the new templates into everyday life • Complete the work
Establish Relationship Great care is taken to establish an effective working relationship, marked by safety, curiosity, warmth and mutual engagement. Attending to the attachment and relational styles of the client, the practitioner creates an inviting atmosphere of respect and participation. Such a bond allows the client to feel confident and supported in turning inwards, to pursue the transformational journey.
Create safety within the relationship and within the client The first task, then, is to build respect and safety. These essential qualities allow the client to willingly surrender external focus to turn inwards towards his or her inner world. They also invite the cooperation of the client’s unconscious. In this way, a powerful and willing ally is engaged in exploring core material and how it shapes one’s experience. Such safety must be evoked and maintained between the client and therapist, as well as evaluated and nurtured within the client herself.
Elicit Mindfulness Once a solid working relationship and sufficient safety are created, the therapist establishes and utilizes a distinct state of consciousness we call Mindfulness. Evolved from many different Buddhist traditions and meditation practices, Hakomi employs Mindfulness as a distinct state of mind in which clients can slow down and observe carefully their ongoing internal experiences. Mindfulness includes a gentle and sustained inward focus of attention, heightened sensitivity, a willingness to be aware of whatever arises, and the ability to notice and name the contents of this awareness. As used in therapy, the intention of Mindfulness is not to detach from what is noticed, but to allow both an unbiased awareness of how the Self is operating, and to provide a platform for internal, psychological and experiential preference. Unconscious material that arises into awareness can be studied, evaluated, celebrated, challenged and revised. This shift in perception provided by Mindfulness is crucial in many stages of the Hakomi process, as we engage with a client’s innate capacities for self-discovery and healing.
Immerse in and study present experiences to access and reveal the organizing core material Hakomi asserts that perception, attitude and behavior are products of deeply held, typically unconscious memories, beliefs, entrenched emotional dispositions and learned templates or schema, all held by habituated neural patterns in the nervous system and body. Collectively, we call these organizing elements core material. Typically formed during childhood, core material defines us as individuals. Our responses to the major themes of life – safety, belonging, support, power, freedom, responsibility, appreciation, sexuality, spirituality, etc. – are all organized by core material. The heart of the Method is therefore the precise study of the client’s ongoing, current experiences, to discover their core origins in the unconscious.
Such experiences may be naturally occurring, or they may be deliberately and gently evoked. Such evocation happens in two ways. First, the client may be encouraged to immerse in and feel more fully some presenting issue or experience, and to observe whatever cognitive, somatic and emotional resonances naturally arise. Secondly, the client may be invited to participate in carefully designed experiential “experiments”. For example, the client may be asked to notice the effect of standing in a certain way, or the internal impact of a certain relational exchange. Both verbal and non-verbal, such experiments evolve from and are tailored to the theme of the session and the client’s momentary experience. Hakomi experiments often involve present events in the body, such as gestures, small movements, changes in breathing, posture and tension. The experiments always include mindfulness, and thus provide a careful study of the impact and meanings of the experience. Pursued in this felt way, events and their causative core material can be spotlighted, summoned, evaluated and transformed.
In either case, this mindful immersion into present experience awakens the deeply held neural networks that shape the client’s beliefs, perceptions and behaviors, and gradually reveal core material.
Process the specific states and content of the core material Human consciousness is an ongoing river, with various specific states of consciousness providing distinct currents to the flow. Core material is anchored by specific states, which reflect the nature of the patterns. Some core patterns are expansive, pro-active, open and creative, while others are more contracted, reactive, limited and fear-based. The Hakomi Method allows the client to distinguish between the two, to immerse in the appropriate state for the patterns, and to change willingly those patterns that constrict his or her innate wholeness.
As the client begins to recognize limiting core material, the session moves to address both the content of the core, and also the specific states of consciousness in which the material is held. Hakomi attends deliberately to recognizing, evoking, stabilizing and emerging from such states. To do so requires the practitioner to understand different states, and to employ specific methods for addressing them:
- We work with strong emotions and bound up energy, releasing them gently and mindfully, and helping the client discover the innate vitality and wisdom within them.
- We work with state specific memories. That is, a session may include not just cognitively recalled memories, but a present reimmersion in the same state that was experienced while the memory was being formed. Many such moments and thus essential core material include the presence of the Child State of Consciousness. Often, clients will simultaneously experience both their present day mindful observer and the younger state of perceptions and feelings that was present when psychological injury took place. Hakomi assists the client in experiencing and studying these pivotal childhood moments so that the client feels safe, curious and ultimately resolved and hopeful in the experience.
- We also work with traumatic states of consciousness. In differentiating the traumatic state and understanding the explicit neurobiological underpinnings of such activation, the client is guided into modulating their arousal levels.
Transform the core templates that shape limiting experience
The deep, core explorations which Hakomi pursues create a more spacious and invigorated emotional climate in which clients can begin to experiment with and choose evolved beliefs and behaviors. At the core, the Hakomi practitioner works to establish alternative ways of being for the client, to supplant the limited, habituated and outdated beliefs and behaviors established years ago.
This is accomplished by providing the client with a new experience, one that was missing or impossible when injury happened. Such new experiences may be complex or simple, but generally reflect unmet childhood learning and relational needs: for example, being held, being listened to, being allowed to explore, feeling protected or supported, and so on.
Having such a new experience provides a template for living differently, fostering the use of new neural patterns. The encounter with the missing experience creates a new, embodied perspective – a newly imprinted neural pattern – that shifts the perceptual and thus behavioral reference point for the client. The “old” story is updated, forgiven or transformed. This new experience – again, an experience, and not just an idea – is a vital turning point in the Hakomi therapeutic process, and provides motivation for further change.
Integrate the new templates into everyday life This phase of the work integrates the newly discovered truths and options with the client’s everyday life. The work here is to stabilize and anchor any positive, powerful new experiences, insights and discoveries.
We help the client to practice whatever new modes of organizing they adopt, and to integrate these modes into their daily lives. In this phase, Hakomi works somatically, emotionally, cognitively and energetically to solidify new templates and to anchor them in the body. The client is assisted in practicing the new attitudes and behavior, so that they may continue to use them as the basis for their lives. Living differently is the only real measure of actual change, and it is here, in fact — in the ability to nurture the new possibilities discovered in the office into ongoing actualities of daily living — that real change happens.
Completion of the work The completion phase allows clients to emerge from the intensity of self-focused inner work, and to orient again towards the outside world. Impasses and discoveries are reviewed, goals are referenced, and future explorations are considered. Great care is taken to be sure the client feels grounded and ready to leave the structured nest of the process and to navigate again through their next adventures and encounters.