Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Shifting from Talk to Present Experience: How the now informs us about the past

Below is an article I wrote for the Larimer Mental Health Connections newsletter.  I'm sharing it here as well if you are wondering a little more about Hakomi and how it differs from talk therapy.

Sometimes, it really helps just to talk.  Sometimes, it’s as if talk doesn’t really do anything but keep us stuck in the same ruts.  This is when we know that in order to change, it will take a shift out of the same thinking that got us stuck in the first place.  By stopping to actually study our experience – not just what we are saying, but how we are saying it, what we are feeling emotionally, what we are experiencing in our body, and how another person is seeing us, we are able to go beyond the words and start to learn about the patterns that got us there in the first place.

In order to do this, we must use different tools and change where we are looking.  In the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, some tools we use are mindfulness – paying attention to what is happening inside ourselves in the present moment with non-judgmental awareness; experiments – let’s watch what happens inside us when…; and accessing all of our system – especially somatic experience, impulses, sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, and memories.  By including information that comes from more than just talk, we are able to gain access to rich information that would stay hidden if we only engage cognitive functions.

Using mindfulness opens a window and gives us access to a more complete set of information.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience have started to explain how our systems work and why mindfulness and somatic therapies work.  Memories are stored partially in several places.  They have a sensory component, a somatic component, a cognitive component, and an emotional component. If we only access memories cognitively, we limit ourselves to only cognitive memories.  If we take the time to slow down and study everything that is happening on all channels in the present moment, it can quickly lead us to understand more about the organizers of experience – the conscious and unconscious decisions we made about the world that made it seem like a good idea to be the way we are being in the present. 

Asking someone to turn their attention solely toward themself requires an immense amount of trust. Trust in themselves and trust in the therapist. Research has shown that relationship is the most important factor in a positive therapeutic outcome. Hakomi has a strong focus on relationship and demonstrates both why and how relationship heals.

Hakomi draws from systems theory, viewing each person as a system which interacts with other systems. According to Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, we have a branch of our autonomic nervous system that recreates another person’s experience inside ourselves.  In order to have access to this information, we must be mindful ourselves and be in relationship with the other. When this level of relationship is present, it creates a space for a client to explore their system beyond what they’ve explored before and it allows the therapist to have access to information in themselves which more fully informs what it is like to be that other person - leading to deeper connection, empathy, understanding, and healing. 

We don’t need to ask about the past, everything we are doing in the present moment is a result of our past experience.  By tuning in to what is already happening on its own in the system, we can help someone learn more about their own experience and start to see that maybe those patterns that were a good idea at one time are not needed any more.  Then by having new corrective experience in relationship, they are more able to change.

1 comment:

  1. Right On Chuck! This is what I'm talking about... um, not talking about. Attempting to do. It not only informs us of the past, and the present, but the future. After all, that's the reason to do it at all, to effect the future. Right?
    Well Done... more coming.