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  • Jia Rebecca Li, LMFT

Hakomi: The study of the "organization of experiences"

Copyright 2024 Jia Rebecca Li Psychotherapy

In Hakomi founder Ron Kurtz's words: "Two entirely different processes determine what each of us experiences. One is what is actually happening around us and the second, the habits that convert these events into information, up the levels of the nervous system into progressively more complex, organized gestalts, and finally into consciousness. The lower, sensory levels are not usually problematic for psychotherapy. It is at the levels of meaning and feelings that the conversion of events into experience becomes highly individual, creative, distinctly human and sometimes unnecessarily painful and limiting."


He continued: "In Hakomi, we help our clients study how they create meaning and feeling out of events, that is, how they organize their experiences."

This is the essence of Hakomi. It's about the exploration and study of our organization of experiences, guided by the principles of mindfulness, organicity, nonviolence, mind-body wholeness and relational unity. (In later posts, I will explain why these principles support and facilitate the exploration - and the resulting reorganization - of our experiences.)


That is, the focus of this method is about evoking, accessing, studying and reconstructing the organization of experiences, which happens at different levels.

In our ordinary, day to day consciousness, cognition (surface level insight) and behaviors are often ready to be accessed and to reconstruct (or RESIST to be reconstructed!). This is how we try to change how we "think" or "do things." In "talk therapy," these are often the levels where most changes happen if your interaction with your therapist is primarily through "conversation" - "talking" about past experiences, "talking" about what you think, "analyzing" what it means, etc.

No doubt, your therapists' insights, warmth, empathy and attunement can promote such changes much more effectively compared to some of the relationships you have outside of therapy.  In fact, it cannot be overstated that tremendous healing can emerge from our felt sense of being heard and being understood, of having someone caring about our experience without agenda or judgment, and of feeling safe to say things we couldn’t say elsewhere or let out the feelings we couldn’t let out elsewhere.

These felt senses (vs. the content of the story) are the focus and entry routes for Hakomi, not the ending.  In contrast, cognitive or behavioral oriented therapies place more focus on what’s being “talked” about, and when the process stays at these more readily available, more surface levels of behaviors and awareness, the resulting changes also stay at these surface levels, limited in their impact, significance and durability.

It's not that there is anything wrong with just changing how you think or how you do things; these changes are important, and after all, these can be your goal of therapy! This is exactly why therapy approaches like CBT, solution-based therapy and many other cognitive or behavioral approaches can be effective: They deliver what you come to therapy for.

At least temporarily. At least to some extent.

To many of us, that can be a huge relief already. As one of my therapist friends passionately pointed out: "Yes, we just "talk" in therapy. But who "talks" like that with you in your life?!"

And sometimes these are the "low-hanging fruit" ripe for picking. Sometimes clients have done so much internal and/or relational work before coming to therapy, and the resulting insight or change gained through "talking" reflect the consolidation of all the deeper work prior to therapy. This kind of changes and insight can be profound.

But many clients come to therapy after years of struggle. Many clients say, "I know I 'should' think or do so and so, but I just don't or cannot." Many clients feel stuck with persistent internal conflicts of different wants or needs. Or, many clients have strong emotions that happen "too quick" and come on "too strong" that aren't "regulated" by the tools of CBT, DBT, and what have you, or they last for "too long."

Or, "successful" and "high functioning" in their life as judged by conventional standards, many clients nonetheless feel like constantly pushing against edges that constrain them from feeling more empowered, satisfied, nourished, fulfilled or connected in life.

These are indicators of a need for deeper levels of reorganization.

If these clients just try to "talk" toward some changes in thinking, behaving or feeling, they are not working at the levels where their core organizing beliefs reside. Hakomi helps us to work at these barriers or edges that we feel "stuck," that "thinking" or "talking" cannot seem to "change anything" or "go anywhere."

Hakomi, and some of the other more holistic, experiential therapy approaches, have developed exquisite expertise in accessing and studying our organization of experiences at deeper levels, and the reorganization of our experiences at these deeper levels allow clients to organically develop new insights and behaviors that feel deeply aligned with who they want to be, innately desired, and readily wanting to be integrated into their personhood and relationships.

Hakomi isn't just a set of techniques (sophisticated and versatile as they are), nor just a method that integrates these techniques. It's about the core principles, and it's about therapists who are dedicated to, practice, and embody these principles. Then, in the relational encounter with clients, these principles come alive.

As a certified Hakomi therapist, I collaborate with my clients at these deeper levels, gently and warmly, and this process transforms our beliefs, somatic felt sense, memories, missing experiences, etc. It's a deeply life affirming process for both my clients and myself.


Kurtz R. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm



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