What Is Hakomi Therapy?

therapist and patient holding hands

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Although it may seem unorthodox when compared to traditional talk therapy, (it involves touch and positive affirmations on the part of the practice) Hakomi therapy is an alternative, "experiential" psychotherapy approach that tries to aid in psychological growth.

Developed by Ron Kurtz in the late 1970s, Hakomi therapy combines a number of different principles and styles, merging Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism with other body-centric therapies.

It uses a somatic-based approach designed to aid in psychological development. At the core of Hakomi is the belief that the body holds internalized beliefs and thought patterns that have become unconscious. Trained Hakomi therapists can use consensual touch to help comfort patients and to encourage them to stay with unpleasant feelings to uncover and understand these unconscious limiting beliefs.

Hakomi is unique in that it seeks to befriend, rather than seeking to remove, uncomfortable elements of the human experience, such as vulnerability and pain. 

Core Principles of Hakomi Therapy

Hakomi therapy is directed by a series of core principles designed to aid both the therapist and the client:

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness refers to a state of presence and inward focus. The intention of generating this state is to aid the client in identifying the sensations that they are experiencing. This state of mindfulness can aid in bringing unconscious things to consciousness.
  • Organicity: According to Hakomi therapy, as organic beings, humans are inherently able to self-correct and to heal. Hakomi therapists are simply there to help aid in this natural healing process that already exists in all human beings.
  • Nonviolence: The principle of nonviolence is two-pronged. It refers to the therapist allowing the session’s process to unfold naturally without interference. It also refers to the Hakomi approach of not perceiving defenses or other barriers as something to be forcefully removed, instead they are to be viewed as defenses designed to protect the individual.
  • Mind-body integration: Mind-body integration refers to the idea that body, mind and soul all combine and work in tandem to influence an individual’s perception of themselves, others and the world that they inhabit. One of these parts is no more influential than the other and so it is important to examine all three to understand a person and their beliefs.
  • Unity: Unity is the view of the patient being comprised of interdependent parts. All of these parts exist to make up the whole person.

Techniques Used in Hakomi Therapy

It is important to understand that therapists are individuals and may alter some of the techniques that they use over time to meet what they perceive to be the needs of their clients.

That being said, Hakomi-trained therapists generally follow a sequence in their sessions based on four different components:

  • Contact: This is a process in which the practitioner seeks to create and establish a comfortable and safe environment for the client. A safe environment is one where the patient is more willing to participate.
  • Accessing: Accessing is the stage of the session where mindfulness is used to discover unconsciously held beliefs. The therapist can help create a mindful state by asking the patient to notice what they are feeling.
  • Processing: In this phase, the therapist examines the patient’s experiences and responses and aids in creating new experiences. It is here that somatic experiencing is used to go deeper into images and sensations. At this time, therapists may use “experiments” to create an element of self-awareness in the patient. For example, a therapist might ask, “What happens inside you when you hear, ‘you are safe here’?” This aids in eliciting a response internally from the client, giving them a chance to explore what they are feeling and experiencing.
  • Integration: The therapist works with the client to unpack and make sense of the discoveries from the session and to assist in making new connections. Integration is a chance to offer practical advice on how this newfound information can be beneficial in the real world.

What Hakomi Therapy Can Help With

There is some evidence of body centered psychotherapies such as Hakomi being helpful in certain mental health conditions. Beyond this, it may be useful to aid in other situations, including:

Benefits of Hakomi Therapy

While there isn't much research about the long-term effects of Hakomi therapy, there are some potential short-term benefits:

  • Increased body awareness: This may be helpful for trauma survivors who perhaps hold tension in certain areas of their body.
  • Improved therapeutic awareness: This means that it can help patients be more aware and in-the-moment during their therapy sessions. this can make talk therapy much more effective, and can help patients feel more present.
  • Increased comfort around others: Since this therapy uses touch, many practitioners have found that the hands-on approach improves patients' comfort-level around others. This is particularly important for some that have experienced trauma or abuse and may have trouble connecting.

Effectiveness of Hakomi Therapy

Currently, there is not much research into the effectiveness of Hakomi therapy. However, there is some evidence that therapies such as Hakomi have been helpful in depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Things to Consider

As with all therapies, reactions and comfort levels are highly individual. Some noted potential problems with Hakomi can include that clients can have a tendency to experience discomfort with physical touch since it can potentially trigger increased distress and "body memories" in susceptible individuals.

Also, this approach may be difficult for people with certain psychological organizations such as those found in some personality disorders.

How to Get Started With Hakomi Therapy

People interested in pursuing Hakomi therapy can find a directory of practitioners at Hakomi Institute. It is important to consider personal limitations and boundaries before meeting with a Hakomi Therapist, including your feelings on touch from a professional. 

Potential clients with specific needs should talk, and essentially interview, a prospective Hakomi specialist and inquire about the therapist's training and expertise with that particular issue. For example, a person with an addiction should ask a specialist beforehand if they are qualified to work with someone with an addiction.

It is also important to understand that specialists trained in Hakomi therapy are not necessarily trained in other types of psychotherapy by extension; they may be, but it is not guaranteed. It can, however, be integrated into the work of many different styles of therapy. 

The training for a Hakomi certified specialist does not mean that they will be able to work with specific conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias or any other psychiatric diagnoses. For this reason, it is important for potential clients to discuss pre-existing conditions and concerns with a Hakomi therapist to learn their strengths and potential limitations before considering a working relationship.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.