Ron Kurtz – A Legacy

Ron Kurtz pioneered, among other things, the use of mindfulness as a fundamental ingredient of psychotherapy and realized the need for psychotherapy to be experiential to be truly transformative. He also understood that nonverbal expression reveals more than our verbal stories can ever tell about the core material that organizes experience and that the body is a direct route to the unconscious.

ron_2_smallIn the seventies Kurtz, who was trained as a scientist, began exploring psychology and experimenting and creating a way of working with people that began to draw acclaim for its innovative and imaginative approach. He was inspired by yoga which taught him several basic ingredients that were to become an integral part of how he worked, including the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence, the interconnectedness of mind and body, the unity principle which is what the word yoga means, and a way of doing little experiments in mindfulness for self discovery. Kurtz’ approach was also informed by Taoism, which taught him about organicity and going with the flow, Bioenergetics which contributed to his understanding of the bodymind connection and how experience brings about change, and Gestalt, which showed him a way to do psychotherapy with a focus on present experience.

In the 80’s Kurtz was greatly influenced and inspired by Moshe Feldenkrais. The genius of Feldenkrais was in bringing previously unconscious and automatic habits patterns into conscious awareness (awareness through movement) and facilitating the discovery of new possibilities for healthy alternative ways of being and acting. What Feldenkrais did with the body, Ron Kurtz adapted to psychology. One of the best ways to understand the thinking behind Hakomi is to learn at least the basics of Feldenkrais.

By the 1980’s Kurtz was surrounded by several people who saw the genius in his way of working and who wanted to distinguish it as a method in it’s own right. They named the method “hakomi” (which they found was a word in the Hopi language meaning “who are you?”) and created an institute (the Hakomi Institute) to offer trainings in the new method. This group of followers spent years attempting to bring order out of the sometimes seemingly chaotic way that Kurtz did things, and began to codify the techniques and organize the method into a form that could be practised by and taught to others. They created a certification process in order to have some control over who practised and taught the method and how.

Meanwhile Kurtz himself continued to create and experiment and refuse to follow any kind of formula or stay inside the box – which was, after all, how the “method” came about in the first place. The more the folks at the Hakomi Institute concretized and passed on the form of the method, the more Kurtz was finding and using new forms to practise the spirit of the method.

By the 90’s there were some in the Hakomi institute who told Kurtz that what he was doing was not “Hakomi”. A rift began to develop as Kurtz insisted, as he always had, on doing his own thing and not fitting into anyone’s idea of how psychotherapy, let alone Hakomi, should be done.

He continually applied what he learned from clients and students and from his voracious appetite for reading books – mainly about the newest research in neuroscience – to his ongoing development of the work. In the 90’s he realized – as research has since confirmed – that the most important ingredient in Hakomi, as in any psychotherapy process (after the client of course), is the therapist’s relationship with the client. He believed that a good therapeutic alliance depended largely on the personhood and state of mind of the therapist. With this realization, the focus in his trainings shifted from teaching Hakomi as a method for psychotherapists to use on clients to using Hakomi to cultivate those personhood qualities and skills that would help anyone to be a healing presence for another. Kurtz recognized that there is an ideal state of mind which can be cultivated with practice and he began to call this state of mind of the helper “loving presence”. By the mid 90’s this became the foundation of his way of teaching Hakomi to professionals and lay people alike. He also saw the value of moving more quickly into the missing experience of nourishment rather than staying in the old story and beliefs. Neuroscience supports the importance of this shift of focus in psychotherapy.

By the start of the new millennium, other new developments were showing up as Kurtz began to feel his own mortality and wanted to refine his way of working and teaching Hakomi, to a simpler and elegantly efficient approach. In the last ten years of his life, he preferred to call this the “refined Hakomi method” as he moved further and further away from any hint of pathologizing (changing the certification to “practitioner” rather than “therapist” and dropping entirely the use of the old Reichian-based character system in favor of what he now called “indicators”).

Kurtz’ way of working and teaching became increasingly human and playful and deeply compassionate as he moved more and more toward the appreciation of how vital is the collaboration of practitioner and client (and ideally of a group) to facilitating a nourishing experience of transformation and healing – for all the participants of the process.

Right to the end of his life, not a day went by that Ron Kurtz was not thinking about and writing about perfecting and simplifying his life’s passion, a way to help reduce suffering through what he referred to as “Mindfulness-based assisted self discovery” – what someone at Naropa once called “applied Buddhism”, what some of his followers are now calling “Applied Mindfulness: the Hakomi Way” – the Legacy of Ron Kurtz.