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My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 1: High School vs. Hakomi

I remember my first day of high school in January 1975. I arrived in the old green MTT school bus to be greeted by a tough-looking older girl who ran alongside the bus shaking her fist at me. I knew it was me she was meeting and greeting as she was making firm and constant eye-contact, rather like a super-heated, vaporizing laser-beam. Quite a feat considering the bus was still moving rather quickly at the time. When I got off the bus, she collared me and said she was going to beat the living shit out of me at a time decided and designated by herself that I was not going to be privy to. It would happen when I least expected it. The strange part about this was that I had never met Vicki Emms before in my life but she apparently knew a lot about me from my so-called friends at primary school.

So last weekend when the Hakomi instructor at my three-day Hakomi Psychotherapy Mindfulness Workshop compared the first day of Hakomi to the first day of high school, I was already there, most mindfully aware of two people inside me attending Hakomi that day — my thirteen-year-old self and my current adult observing ego.

Hakomi and high school is like heaven and hell. Hakomi is a mindfulness body-centered psychotherapy that is gaining rapid popularity, especially in Perth, Western Australia, where I live. Hakomi therapy is fundamental in five principles: mindfulness, nonviolence, organicity, unity and body-mind holism. As someone who was beaten up regularly and given the odd royal flush at high school, I liked the non-violent bit the best.

During Hakomi therapy, the therapist focuses on respecting the client, being aware in the present moment and helping the client mindfully study body sensations, emotions, and memories to invoke powerful and lasting changes.

Vicki Emms taught me a lot about mindfulness and being aware in the present moment. I became excessively hypervigilant around certain areas of high school that appeared just as dangerous as the jungles of Vietnam to me, such as the third-year lockers, the third-year toilets and the bike shed behind the technical drawing classrooms. I spent many a recess and lunchtime mindfully studying my Vicki Emms-induced body sensations, which evoked powerful and long-lasting post-traumatic stress disorder changes in me.

So I was more than aware of where these anxious feelings came from when I parked my car at the college where the weekend was about to unfold. I walked towards the conference room with ants crawling over my body. I went inside and found an empty chair, and my thirteen-year-old self waited for the inevitable taunts, pushing, shoving, hair-pulling and bullying but my adult observing ego quietly looked around the room to see others and I knew instinctively (and I later found out correctly) that these people were pretty much in the same boat as me and it was not called the Titanic. So I felt the fear and did it anyway.

After the initial introduction, we did our first experiential exercise, which involved pairing up (always traumatic for someone who was last to be picked at netball, folk dancing and snowball during rollerskating), making eye contact, and saying the other’s name to see what experience it would evoke. So I was delighted when this lady immediately made eye contact with me, raised her eyebrows and nodded in my direction. I was picked. My relief was palpable. I was the chosen one. I finally fit in. Perhaps this wasn’t Groundhog Day at high school after all.

Making eye contact with anyone for any length of time can be quite frightening. It can evoke all sorts of memories, body sensations and for some induce a form of psychotic dissociation. I had to ground myself firmly so I wouldn’t have an out-of-body experience. I have never forgotten Vicki Emms’ unwaveringly malicious and malignant death-stare eye contact as the bus bumped its way gently down the lane to my first day of high school. When she stared so potently at me, I got a sense of blinding malevolence that was somehow not actually directed at me but at someone else, whom I did not know. I just knew that whatever she felt towards that person, I was her hate/rage displacement target for the sense of powerlessness in her life.

Hakomi is not for the faint-hearted. Neither is high school.

My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 1: High School vs. Hakomi

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). My Hakomi Psychotherapy Journey, Part 1: High School vs. Hakomi. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Mar 2010
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