By Nancy Napier
As a practitioner trained in Somatic Experiencing (SE), rather than Hakomi, I’d like to offer some alternative ways of intervening in the kind of case Rob Fisher describes. In SE, Jane’s “cardinal rule” of not needing to depend on others would be considered an example of “over-coupling,” an inner process by which two or more elements of experience—sensation, image, impulse, emotions, or meaning—become traumatically linked, automatically triggering each other. For Jane, the feeling of emotional need has come to automatically elicit an impulse to push away the other person. Another over-coupling shows up later when Jane says, “Needs are the same as disappointment.” The two aspects of her experience—“having needs” and “disappointment”—have become joined in a single neural network.
At some point early in the treatment of a client like Jane, I might talk with her about how to help her brain access emotional needs without automatically moving into trauma-based disappointment. The goal would be to shift from one trauma-based neural network to two non-trauma-based, separate, neural networks that would give her more flexibility and variety in her relationships. This isn’t a cathartic process because, ordinarily, I don’t ask the client to go deeply into any of the content around negative past experiences. The process involves instead a gentle touching into the experience of need, for example, and feeling the sensations related to it without going all the way into it, and then doing the same with disappointment.
In Somatic Experiencing, we consider mindful awareness and the passage of time to be key elements in healing. Often spontaneous shifts emerge that support healing when we simply invite clients to “notice” what’s happening in their body-based experience. So in working on Jane’s traumatic experience with her father, I might focus on helping her deal with the sudden shock of the original experience when she was unprepared not to be caught by him. When such experiences take us by surprise, it’s as if time stops, and a part of us continues to live permanently in the moment of betrayal or overwhelm. Going back and giving the nervous system a chance to come out of the time-locked moment permits the clock to begin moving once more, permitting this traumatized part of the self to get up to date and allowing the experience of the trauma to fade into memory, where it belongs.
While this intervention calls on some specific SE approaches, basically I’d invite Jane to go to the time right before the trauma and freeze-frame the scene. Maintaining awareness of what’s coming, I’d ask Jane to notice what happens in her body if she takes some time to feel her experience. She might feel her body tense and get ready to run away. If that were to happen, we’d allow the time necessary for her body to experience the full impulse to flee. Then, going back to what actually happened, we might explore what would have made a difference, if she could have any support she needed at the time. This would allow her body to move through whatever impulses or responses got stopped in time.
What Hakomi seems to share with SE is an emphasis on generating corrective, body-based experiences in the treatment hour that not only build new neural pathways, but also generate “competing experiences” that can become available to the client to replace old dysfunctional responses. The underlying assumption of both models appears to be that, when given the opportunity, clients will move toward these more resourceful options, often with a surprising naturalness and without a need for a great deal of verbal insight.
Rob Fisher, M.A., M.F.T., a certified Hakomi therapist and trainer, is an adjunct professor at John F. Kennedy University and at the California Institute of Integral Studies, on the faculty of Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, and a supervisor for the Shiluv Center in Israel. He’s the author of Experiential Psychotherapy with Couples: A Guide for the Creative Pragmatist, along with numerous chapters and articles on the use of mindfulness in therapy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nancy Napier, L.M.F.T., teaches Somatic Experiencing for the Foundation for Human Enrichment. She’s the author of Recreating Yourself, Getting Through the Day and Sacred Practices for Conscious Living. Contact: email@example.com.
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