Hakomi therapy gives us valuable insights into the healing power of the Hero’s Journey and offers a practical approach to removing blocks from our lives.
Hakomi Therapy: The Healing Journey
I was working on my Pinterest boards recently, and I came across a site called The Hakomi Institute. I had never heard of Hakomi therapy, but I was curious. I visited the site and was struck by how closely Hakomi therapy parallels the transformative cycle in the Hero’s Journey. Almost all forms of therapy and self-development follow this same basic pattern. Hakomi is no exception, and exploring how Hakomi works can give us some valuable insights into not only the journey process, but into how we block ourselves on our journeys and how we can get unblocked.
Hakomi is a form of psychotherapy that draws from a number of scientific, psychological and spiritual sources, including systems theory, Gestalt therapy and neurolinguistic programming. It also incorporates general concepts from Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, and I see strong parallels with narrative therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In this post, I want to take a brief look at Hakomi therapy, as I understand it. In following posts, I will explore how the Hakomi process parallels the transformative process in the Hero’s Journey and offer some thoughts on how understanding this process can help us in our own lives.
Who are you?
Mindfulness means looking inward, being aware of feelings and sensations in this present moment, confident…that we have a living example of how we habitually organize our minds, bodies and worlds. — FlowingBody.com —
Hakomi is a Hopi Indian word meaning, essentially, “How do you stand in the realms of your world?” or, more succinctly, “Who are you?” Hakomi therapy is a process in which the client and the therapist explore the web of relationships that create one’s personal identity. The goal of Hakomi therapy, as I understand it, is to help people change or “redeem” their “core material,” the memories, beliefs, neural pathways and deep emotions that shape and define them.
Our core material organizes and directs how we interpret our experiences, our world and ourselves. It is often formed in childhood, when we lacked the experience or knowledge cope with difficulties in a constructive way. These childhood coping strategies continue to work subconsciously when we become adults, often sabotaging or limiting our lives and causing pain, frustration and even physical problems.
Hakomi therapy works on the theory that we take in sensory input from both ourselves (thoughts, feelings, etc.) and the world. As we process that input, we impose meaning on it based on our existing personal narrative (core material), which is our template for interpreting and valuing experience. “In simple terms,” writes Jeremy McAllister (2015), “first, we experience, and then we make sense of experience. We incorporate that created meaning—and all the strategies and perceptions that come with it—into our sense of Self, Other, and World.”
Six Stages: Revising Core Material
From my reading, Hakomi therapy helps clients explore core material and how it shapes their experience, and then it helps them reinterpret or reframe core material so that it no longer negatively affects their lives. To accomplish this healing, Hakomi follows six general stages:
1. Creating a safe, accepting environment. This stage includes establishing an accepting, empathic therapist-client relationship. Within this “safe place,” clients will be able to evoke and explore unconscious patterns at work in their lives.
2. Establishing mindfulness. Mindfulness, in this sense, is brought about as the therapist helps clients focus on and explore how they organize experience, the habitual, automatic ways their “core material” influences the way they perceive and interpret experience.
3. Evoking experience. The therapist helps clients make direct contact with their core material through “experiments in mindfulness,” gentle somatic and verbal techniques that encourage clients to safely access their present experience. The therapist does this by exploring “indicators:” patterns of physical behavior (habitual gestures, physical tension, etc.).
4. Processing. The therapist helps clients evoke deep emotions and memories. This “externalization” can be a very painful and unsettling process. When clients are ready, the therapist guides them through identifying and processing the problematic core material. This often involves revisiting negative childhood experiences which generated the adult core beliefs, and working through them to reframe or transform those experiences (“redeem” them, to use a term from narrative therapy). While clients are this “child” state, the therapist may be able to provide the “missing experience” or the support the clients did not receive at the time the experience was being processed.
5. Transformation. At some point during the processing, clients have an insight or experience a “revelation” that healing experiences are possible. They need not be stuck living out the same, childhood narrative; the negative, restrictive story can be revised and redeemed, made positive and life-affirming. The clients open themselves to these healing experiences and revised interpretations.
6. Integration. Together, the clients and therapist begin to integrate the healing experiences with the clients’ present life: their self-concept, work, relationships, outlook and so on. Clients begin the process of living with new, revised core material that opens their lives to new possibilities for fulfillment and self-expression.
I have read only a little about Hakomi therapy, but my impression is that the final stage, integration, may actually involve two or three separate stages: integrating the healing experiences, consolidating the new core material in a new self-narrative, and exploring how the new core beliefs will be expressed in the clients’ lives.
Those of you who are familiar with my transformational model of the Hero’s Journey will probably see similarities between Hakomi’s six stages and the eight stages in the journey process. In my next post, I want to look at these similarities and explore the healing process in general.
References and Resources
Kurtz, R. (2015). Basics of the Refined Hakomi Method. Hakomi.com. Retrieved December 9, 2015, from http://hakomi.com/history/basics-of-refined-hakomi.
McAllister, J. (2015). Our Narrative Body: The Core Material of Hakomi Therapy. GoodTherapy.org. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/our-narrative-body-the-core-material-of-hakomi-therapy-0122154.
The Hakomi Method. The Hakomi Institute.com. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from http://hakomiinstitute.com/about/the-hakomi-method.
Wikipedia. (2015). Hakomi. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakomi.