What is Hakomi?

Dear Potential Counseling Client,

       You may be wondering what Hakomi Therapy is all about, what is going to happen, or what will be expected of you.  This note is to let you know:  1) the ideas behind our work;   2) what attitudes on your part would be helpful for the process; and 3) what happens during and after a therapy session.

What the Hakomi Method is About

     Hakomi Therapy is a personal growth process, originally developed by Ron Kurtz, and evolved greatly over the past 30+ years by Ron and various senior practitioners. In an atmosphere of safety and acceptance, the client is able to discover and refine the beliefs and attitudes that shape the quality of his or her or their life.


     One of the most important aspects of Hakomi is that we work with a special kind of consciousness, called “witnessing”, or mindfulness. “Witnessing” means turning inward, usually with your eyes closed, to notice whatever is going on within you, without any judgment.  It’s being fully aware of your present experience while still fully experiencing it. You might think of it as being all the actors up on the stage in the drama of your life, and at the same time being comfortably seated in the audience observing the whole thing.

     Mindfulness brings vivid awareness to your behavior, your being and your past, and gives you a chance to rework the beliefs, feelings and images that help determine who you are.

      As with other forms of personal growth work, being a Hakomi client means you may encounter parts of yourself, both pleasant and unpleasant, which you forgot, which you didn’t attend to before, or which were too painful to look at.  There may be memories, wishes and fantasies; strong emotions; or aspects of your behavior that you have trouble accepting or dealing with. And, there will also likely be moments of relief, celebration and triumph.

  Over time, our relation to these parts of ourselves has become automatic. These reactions happen so quickly that we rarely notice we have just ignored, evaded or reacted to something.  And typically, when such habits get challenged, we use a great many strategies to maintain the old self and to avoid what might be possible.  Witnessing lets us discover how we have learned to do all this, and how we might do things in a more whole and satisfying way.

     So, a large part of our work requires observing your inner reactions and finding the beliefs that create them.  We may ask you in a focused way just to be there, to hang out, to observe, or to feel what happens to you while you are in the therapy session.

Respect for the Client

     A second essential aspect of Hakomi is respect for the client.  Though the therapist needs to be an expert in the application of Hakomi, only you know what is best for you.  What you choose to work on, how far or fast or deep you go are all determined by you, the client. The therapist will offer suggestions and clearly direct the flow of the work. This should not feel pushy or invasive.  In such an atmosphere of support and cooperation, the inner self feels most safe revealing itself and making personal choices for change.  As Senior Hakomi Trainer Jon Eisman says, “The therapist is in charge of the process, and you are in charge of the therapist.”

What You Can Do To Make Your Work More Effective 


     One thing that you can do to make such changes possible is to be clear about your own commitment to the work. You are choosing to be a client because in some way you are confused, uncertain or unhappy about yourself, or about a relationship or how your life is going. It may not even be very clear to you.  But you know something needs to change, and there is a part of yourself that strives to make that change happen. If you respect that part, if you commit yourself to your own growth and the process it takes to effect that, then you will aid your growth in happening.

Be true to all of yourself

     On the other hand, it is important to stay true to all of yourself.  Not all of you may wish to or be ready to change. If all of you were, you wouldn’t need any outside help to make things different; you’d just change naturally, like a tree throughout the different seasons… So while it is important to honor your commitment to growth, it is just as important to do so in such a way that no part of yourself feels pushed or violated or left behind.

     For example, if it’s important to you to reveal a certain piece of information, then reveal it. If it’s important not to reveal it, then by all means, keep it to yourself. Or if part of you is angry, and feels like shouting, but another part feels embarrassed to make any noise, then you will need to get clear, with the counselor’s help, how each has its own wisdom and what you prefer to do in the moment. You will get to many such choice points in your work, and you help the therapy progress every time you consider all parts of yourself in an honest and inclusive way.

Growth takes time

     A third way you can assist your process is to be patient with yourself. Nobody changes overnight. Just as it took some time for you to become who you are, it will also take time to discover how that happened, what you can do about it, and how to make the new options your own. And it’s good to know in advance that real change only begins in the office. The successful taking on of new, more productive beliefs and behaviors happens through your trying them out in your everyday life. Therapy just plants a seed; it’s up to you to help make that seed blossom through daily care and attention.

Developing a healing relationship

     Finally, you can make your process more effective by being open and honest with your counselor. Of course, this depends on your learning to trust your counselor, and it is the counselor’s job to earn your trust.  In the same way, it becomes your job to use that trust as a tool to explore your inner world.  Sharing difficult memories, including the counselor as a work partner, even confronting him or her on some attitude they seem to have, may all be part of your process. For many people, just learning to have such trust and communicating in an open way with another person is a new and invaluable experience.

What to Expect in a Session

Self-study of your inner world

     Because we believe that true change means replacing habitual patterns with new, more satisfying ones, Hakomi is less interested in solving specific problems and more focused on studying how your whole self is put together. We have faith that if you change how you approach the events in your life, the quality of the events themselves will also change. For this reason, the session will likely focus more on your immediate experiences, and less on what you can do about a particular situation.

   Similarly, the emphasis will be on self-study with the therapist’s guidance, rather than on extended conversational dialogue. Though it may not immediately make sense just hearing about it, five minutes spent carefully studying a sensation, image or emotion may yield far greater insight than an hour of detailed description or analysis of a particular event.

   To more readily allow inner study, you will at some point be invited to let your attention shift away from the outside world to focus on your inner experiences; often even to close your eyes. It is typical in Hakomi to spend most of the session deep within yourself, eyes closed, pursuing some important “white rabbit” your unconscious has presented.

What might come up?

     There’s a wide range of events that such pursuit can lead you to. Sometimes strong emotions may come up, or physical sensations and impulses, or stunning insights. Other times you might have powerful memories emerge, possibly even ones you’ve never before remembered. Sometimes you might feel like a little child. Or things may just get very still and quiet. They may even get boring or frustrating. All of these and more are perfectly natural. Your therapist has been trained to respond in a supportive way to any of them, and has very likely already worked with someone else who has experienced something similar.

Changes in awareness

    During the therapy session, most experiences will take place in “witnessing consciousness”, that is, focused inner self awareness.  Still, your every day consciousness is always available, will be co-present as you work, and will return spontaneously at the end of the session.  At that point you may have lost a sense of sequence of what has occurred.  It may feel as if the events of the therapy have taken place outside of time.  You may not even immediately be able to remember the whole session.

This is simply a function of your consciousness changing, just like when you wake up from a dream and can’t quite recall all of it. If this occurs, it’s a good sign and means that you dropped the usual qualities of ordinary consciousness for a while, and that your deeper mind was busy working things out.

Your Physical Body and the Use of Respectful Touch

     Because Hakomi seeks to explore the whole self, the session will likely include, at least in part, a focus on the ways your physical body holds and expresses important psychological information. In service to this exploration, the session may involve moments of bodily awareness or activity, or even respectful physical contact. This might mean being touched, or held, or physically supported by your therapist.  Or you might simply be asked to move in ways that your body seems to want.  Sometimes a client will curl up on the floor, or struggle to release some anger. The spontaneity of such moments can be very insightful and healing. Of course, anything offered will only be done with your permission and with the utmost integrity and respect.  You are always free to try such an experience or not. And it is essential to note that no touch of a sexual nature is ever endorsed in Hakomi Therapy (although issues relating to sexuality may certainly be explored in the session, if the client chooses).

After the session

     Typically, even after the session is over, your inner self will continue to work on the material you’ve been looking at.  You may find yourself in various moods, pleasant or not; you might have more or less energy; you might have particularly vivid dreams; you might feel peaceful or agitated or numb. All kinds of experiences may present themselves as your inner self makes adjustments. These events are the necessary next steps in your process. By allowing them their space and by studying them for the messages they contain, you may more readily integrate the new options you are discovering. In fact, your therapist will likely suggest specific kinds of “homework” for you to explore between sessions to assist this integration. And, of course, any or all of these follow-up experiences may be important topics for any further sessions you and your therapist might do.

     I sincerely hope that the above information about Hakomi Therapy has been useful to you. Please feel free to call me with any questions.


George Vassiliades