Working with Addiction the Hakomi Way
Working with Addictions by Donna Martin ~ Senior Hakomi Trainer
The Hakomi Method of Assisted Self Discovery has several essential elements for working with addictions such as substance abuse. In fact, the method is – in a way – always working with addictions, if we define addictions as habits that have life-limiting or life-damaging consequences. When anyone clings to a certain behaviour as the only way of managing certain experiences, or relationships, or difficult life situations, those behaviours become automatic. These coping reactions are organized by unconscious attitudes and beliefs based on implicit memories of past experiences. Since they are on automatic, no matter what they are, they have the potential to be inappropriate, or even destructive, at least some of the time.
I always tell clients who come to work on their addictions that they are one step ahead of the average client who hasn’t yet realized that, as the Buddhists say, their own “attachments” are the cause of their suffering.
Hakomi practitioners work from a particular state of mind which we call “loving presence”. The work with clients is a collaborative journey of self discovery where the practitioner is a companion, a kind of spiritual friend. This attitude offers healing for two of the fundamental issues that can keep addicted clients from recovering: shame and isolation.
Because the kind of habitual reactions that we call addictions are usually a person’s best attempt to cope with life and to try to meet at least some of their most basic needs, the recovery process must address the unconscious core material that organizes and sustains whatever was the old reality where those reactions made sense. And this recovery must be done in a way that is not shaming or blaming. The quality of the relationship between practitioner and client is the key to this. This requires a relationship built on respect, acceptance, appreciation, and love. The state of mind of the therapist sets the context for the healing relationship.
Hakomi is based on what we call “loving presence. As practitioners we are trained to see the hidden strengths and resources in clients on which their recovery relies. We see the beauty and humanity of our clients. We see their awesomeness. We see them in a way that fills us with inspiration and love.
This state of mind sets the context for a relationship which feels safe and where clients can look deeply inside themselves and not feel more shame. If this is done in a group setting, the possibility of developing a sense of belonging and of healthy connectedness is enhanced.
Hakomi works well in a group setting, especially with issues of addiction.
The presence of companions in a Hakomi group allows for such aspects of the method as “taking over” the dissociated parts of the client which must be recovered and integrated in the self discovery process. The group is also essential in restoring a sense of wholeness, belonging, and self acceptance.
Whether Hakomi is offered one to one or in a group, the client looking at his or her addictions learns to cultivate something which is even more beneficial than any of the particular life changes, or personal discoveries, or core issues that are addressed on this healing journey. Clients begin to develop a capacity for interrupting the impulses that turn into automatic reactions, to have a gap between the trigger and the addictive reaction, to have a choice to respond differently to whatever is arising in the moment. The capacity for mindful self awareness and for healthy self regulation is life changing. To stay awake to the moment as it is, without being hijacked by intense destructive emotions or dissociative trances, is to be liberated from the cycle of unnecessary suffering. This capacity develops from the style of Hakomi as a method of assisted self discovery using little experiments done in mindfulness. As a practice, this new habit of simply pausing long enough to notice one’s own present moment experience offers the possibility of realizing alternative responses to whatever feeling or situation is happening. It offers choice. Consciousness is choice and choice is freedom.
Viktor Frankl, who survived the worst experiences in Nazi concentration camps, wrote that: “No one can take away man’s ultimate freedom, which is the freedom to choose one’s own attitude in any given situation.”
The more we come to understand that our reactions contribute as much to our experience as the events of our life, the more we can access the power we have to change our experience. We can change our life by changing our attitudes and perceptions, our feelings, our relationships, our addictive reactions, and our sense of self. Mindful self awareness is the key to this possibility of transformation and liberation - the ultimate gift of Hakomi.
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