How I First Encountered Assisted Self-Discovery – My Hakomi Roots
I first learned of the term “Assisted Self-Discovery from Ron Kurtz, creator of the Hakomi method of psychotherapy. My first encounter with this method was, as you might expect, in therapy as a client. This encounter had a profound impact on my life professionally and personally.
I was living in Boulder, CO at the time and was involved relationship that mean a lot to me. The relationship had been going great as far as I could tell, then one day, without warning, she ended it.
I was devastated by this unexpected and sudden change. It truly rocked my world. Of course, I was going through what many experience in the aftermath of a breakup. The pain of a for real heartbreak is no small thing. But in this case, something bigger was going on it seems. For all practical purposes I was completely dysfunctional. A couple of weeks after it happened, I even lost my job. With the advice of some friends, It became clear after a while that something was not right here. I mean, yeah, I was heartbroken, but the suffering I was experiencing was severe. I finally concluded I needed profession help (lol), so I sought out a therapist (which are plentiful in the Boulder area). It was here I had really unexpected experience that changed my world.
I had just met the therapist for our first session and was explaining my situation. We hadn’t gotten very far when he said to me “did you notice that you’re making a fist while you’re talk and holding it near your stomach?” Surprised, I looked to see, yeah he was right! I had no idea I was doing this.
He asked, “what’s that about?”
I said “I dunno, I’m just telling my story.”
He said “but your fist is also telling a story”.
That was interesting. I played along as he helped me very carefully and mindfully explore what was behind this non-verbal expression. Much to my surprise, this exploration unlocked a tremendous amount of unexpressed grief and anger from much earlier in my life that was all mixed up in the outpouring of anguish I was feeling about the breakup – no wonder I was a huge mess. This was a life changing breakthrough for me as we were able to sort out what was happening over the next few sessions and make real progress in ways I never imagined possible.
After that first session, I felt like that technique of focusing on my fist was miraculous in it’s effect. So of course I asked him literally “what the heck was that? Where did you learn to do that?”
He explained it was from a training he took called “Hakomi”, a form of mindfulness based somatic psychology which, as it turns out, was headquartered in Boulder.
These days, you can get a degree in mindful therapy and somatic approaches to working with clients – but when I first encountered the practice, it was considered “woo-woo” when in fact it was just waaaaay ahead of it’s time. In fact, the the main reason I didn’t go back to college and get an MA in psychotherapy as I did not want to spend years studying techniques that were outdated. Even now, I encounter many people fed up with limitations of ‘talk therapy’. Finally, times have changed, and while still considered unconventional, mindfulness and somatic approaches to working with people are not part of many college programs.
[As an aside, I once attended a workshop run by the late Ron Kurtz, the creator of Hakomi where he told me as we walked down the sidewalk “I sometimes wonder if a therapists skill is inversely proportional to the years they spent in school.” Ron himself, was not a trained therapist, yet went on to train and help thousands in the course of his career. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a believer in education, just that in some cases it’s harder learn new concepts when you have a framework for understanding already in place.]
I had to know everything there was to know about this Hakomi thing so I enrolled in training and spent many incredible hours of study along with amazing therapists, the founders and trainers. I did not go on to get certified in Hakomi as I did not have a practice at the time. Even so, over the years, I have kept up with the method and it is “in my bones”. Hakomi, to me, is more than an approach to working with people – it is a orientation to life grounded in bearing witness, compassion, mindfulness, and the wish to relieve suffering in others.
BTW, Hakomi is a Hopi Indian word that means “what is my relationship to all these realms.” As I recall, it came to Ron, or one of his students, in a dream. It is perfect word to describe the method as it involves helping people explore their relationship to their world in a mindful and gentle way.
Another favorite saying of Ron’s was “I’m in charge of the session, and the client is in charge of me.” This approach means that you lead the process, and I help it along. In this way no content is every explored that doesn’t arise “organically”, meaning – it comes from you, not from me. I would be unlikely to say for example “well, it seems like you have issues with your father so lets explore that”. Instead, if you express a problem of some kind, we will explore what you express. That could very well lead to father issues, but they are explored when they arise, not at my suggestion.
Hakomi is very elegant and graceful way of working with people and is deeply reverent, supportive, and respectful of your process.
Going back to my story, there are few important points.
- Short circuiting “talk therapy”
In the story above, I said “I had not gotten very far” in telling my story when the therapist gently directed my attention to my fist. In other words, he didn’t need hear my life story before we could start deep work. This is vast improvement over traditional talk therapy which can take a very long time and seem to be quite slow in contrast to these techniques. it’s not always this way.
- Somatic Basis (Body Centered)
The therapist working with me noticed and directed my attention to my fist. I did not realize I was making a fist and certainly had no idea there was any meaning behind it. This was important and unlocked a huge breakthrough for me, in the matter of a 60 minute, first session. Noticing and using spontaneous non-verbal behavior as an important part of the process is what differentiates somatic psychology from others. The therapist is paying attention in a big way to everything you do and say looking for “indicators” as Ron would say. The client often is not aware they of these indicators so the therapist helps explore them when appropriate. Knowing what an indicator is and how to explore it gracefully and carefully is part of the craft.
- Accessing Unconscious Content (helping the client have new insights)
The whole point of this work is to help you become aware of what are not aware of. Not just pointing out something you don’t know, but revelations about how you have adapted your inner world of beliefs, judgments, and attitudes so that you can function – but some of those preconceived notions no longer work for you in important ways. These self-imposed limitations are generally just habits from outdated beliefs and patterns. This work is very much about helping you discover for yourself how you came to have these habits. When you realize this, in earnest, they no longer have as much influences on you.
My work involves more than Hakomi in that I’ve been also been trained in other methods including hypnotherapy, group dynamics, re-creation of the self, attachment, somatic expression, non-violent communication, meditation, mindfulness and others. That said my work is deeply influenced by Hakomi, as is my
To date, I have rarely witnessed such beauty as the breakthroughs people experience facilitated by this method.
I’m happy to help out of my Bellevue office, or via Zoom. Click on the Let’s Talk for a free getting to know you session.