by Martin Schulmeister

The goal of this article is to inspire Hakomi therapists working in the group setting. I will present important questions, problems and solutions relevant to Hakomi group therapy that I have encountered in my practice, in discussions and workshops.

The Therapists Personality

It is important to discuss the personality of the therapist before I address basic questions of the group setting. The effects and consequences of the therapist's personality will reveal itself more clearly in a group than in individual therapy. A therapist may be able to conceal his or her character behind the safeguard of a one-to-one relationship in an individual session and perhaps hold on for one session, but if you attempt to compensate in group therapy, this strategy will likely result in difficulties. The group will always cause the therapist to confront him- or herself. The confrontation will be obvious or subtle depending on how threatening the therapist is to the participants. The therapist's position is one of authority and in general, the participants feel out the preferences of the therapist in order to get on his or her good side. At the same time, though, they have to defend against him. Every preference or partiality of the therapist is damaging. But therapists are not perfect. We have to admit that our behavior in therapy groups is at least partly dictated from our preferences. This can lead to small or large conflicts. But from these conflicts we all can learn a great deal. The extent of openness and understanding of such an encounter depends mostly on the group therapist.

It is important for therapist to take a look at their preferences or partialities in their continuing supervision. Some therapists notice that they do their work extremely softly due their fear of aggression. Others prefer to work with the child because they feel shy about an open encounter with grown-ups. Others may discover in their fear of alienation and abandonment the roots of their preferences to use a lot of nourishing interventions. These are three of the many examples of therapist's preferences that can bring about considerable dynamics in the therapeutic process. The behavior and actions of the therapist are not the only determining factors in a group but rather his or her intentions as well as the emotional background of his behavior. If the therapist is conscious of this and ready for growth and a process of encounter, then the group will also be a teacher to him and will likely proceed in an easy and powerful way. If not, each session turns out to be more of a strain. Then the therapist attempts to manage the situation as best he can by use of his compensatory character strategies and "wonderful techniques", and he is trying just to cope. Productive methods as those mentioned below are then used only to serve the therapist's need of control and manipulation which allows him to avoid his or her own fears.

I have mentioned two extremes of handling groups now and we all probably find ourselves somewhere in between. I remember one evening while departing to a group that something unfamiliar was holding me back. I sat down again and listened to my inner self. I was very relaxed which was not common for me right before an evening with the group. This was really a different feeling. The usual tension was gone. I was always so used to this tension and I normally just skipped over it. As I experienced this relaxation and calmness, it was suddenly clear to me how much I had exerted myself throughout the years to feel welcome and needed; inner fear and courageous fighting at the same time. Now it was like a tear-filled purification of old stress, tension, feelings and memories. During the evening, I worked with three people in the group with "feeling welcome" on a very deep level without having mentioned my personal experience of what had happened just before the group meeting. They intuitively sensed my conscious space for this "schizoid" experience. At this point I could accompany the individuals into their experience and take in their concerns. I have often encountered these mostly unconscious reactions of the participants with the group leader. Therefore, I believe that the group can be a mirror for the therapist. The direction that the therapist is open for and to what extent he can offer a specific space will reveal itself in the group. If the group is stuck on a particular point, it is a good indication for the therapist to examine his own personal background of the issues involved during the next supervisory meeting (for instance, the participants of my last advanced workshop brought up the issue of money and I know that this will be a challenge for me).

It is probably necessary that the therapist experience group situations and conflicts as a challenge in order to proceed and develop in his or her own process. This also applies to individual therapeutic sessions as well. The therapist's effectiveness is derived not from the technique but rather from his or her being. For this reason one of the essential questions posed in advanced workshops with respect to group therapy deals with our own preferences and partialities. As a group leader, we can give attention to those parts of our fears that we can only accept partly, or not at all (and therefore not in others). We can also pay attention to our hopes and wishes which secretly form group processes as well.

Nevertheless I would like to emphasize, that in contrary to individual sessions, you can not avoid the interpersonal crisis in therapy-groups. In individual sessions your skill as a therapist to jump out of systems, as well as a good intuition, may help you to handle difficult interpersonal situations even before they get serious. In the group so many things happen at the same time, that it is very likely for the therapist or participants to fall into reactions and systems with each other. Somebody is bound to get hurt deeply sooner or later.

I would like to give an example for this. Suppose a person in a schizoid process comes to see a therapist for individual sessions. The therapist would possibly welcome his client right at the door knowing that the first seconds can be crucial for the whole session. He would probably not keep sitting in his practice kitchen drinking tea, saying "I'll come over in a minute".

The same client in group-therapy might experience something like this: another participant of the group closes the door just in front of him or her. Not in order to do any harm. These things simply happen. People are not always aware of others needs and wounds.

Suppose the same person would continue individual sessions. As a therapist you would be prepared to watch your contact with this person. If you found yourself drifting away during the session this would be a signal for you to establish contact again. In the group you may end up being the only one who is listening to the person while others are wandering away, sleeping in or getting nervous. The hurt will happen and the therapist has to work with this situation.

Let's follow this example one more step. Suppose this client comes for long term individual therapy, the therapist would come from an attitude that allows him to accept any kind of feeling the client would come up with, including severe panic, strong hate and so on, so that the client would not go home with a reinforced belief, like "something is wrong with me". Showing emotions the same client in the group would probably trigger reactions of judgments and resentfulness in at least one group participant. The conflict would be there.

As a therapist I come from the background of the encounter movement, so it was not very difficult for me to accept ongoing interpersonal stuff and conflicts, still, in single sessions I got used to work more and more interpersonal in a gentle and harmonious way, and it took some time for me to relax into the group situation and to find ways to use interpersonal crises as something precious in HAKOMI-Therapy.

Questions and-Guidelines of Hakomi Group Work

The following are a few essential questions that are often asked by group therapists:

1. Hakomi was originally developed for individual therapy. How can it be applied in a group?

2. How can a therapist engage the group in the therapeutic process of the individuals ?

3. How can one develop exercises that are really appropriate for the group instead of always using the same from Hakomi workshops?

4. How can a therapist create the best individual safety (as a prerequisite for the cooperation of the unconscious) without diminishing the liveliness or spontaneous (sometimes aggressive) self-expression of the group?

My experience has shown that there is a general principle answering these questions, and some specific procedures as well.

The general principle in group work reflects on a movement between two polarities: the problem-oriented group therapy vs. the conscious-oriented one.

My understanding of the problem-oriented group therapy is the following: 1. All participants concentrate on the group leader and expect a decision from him. 2. Only those who have a problem or can create one and possibly most dramatically express himself will receive attention, feedback and contact.

My understanding of consciousness-oriented group therapy is: 1. All group members are clear that they participate in a consciousness training within which they can understand themselves and others more deeply by means of various explorations. 2. The study of mindfulness is of central importance as the basis of self-examination. 3. Training mindfulness is done with different individual exercises, then in mindful encounters and finally within the group process. 4. A training of this kind results in a shift of focus away from the leader towards the individual in the group. This change in the therapeutic work causes everything to become easier, livelier and more direct. The crises and problems that we are confronted and allowed to work with, deal with deeper and more existential questions.

As to the specific procedures, I would like to concentrate on two points that are important to me. Both are mainly directed towards the group participating in the therapeutic process and to enable everybody to encounter themselves and others.

A. Working with group issues.

B. The transition from individual to group work.

A. Working with Group Issues.

There are essential issues in our cultural background that touch us in one way or another. These arise in the group "unexpectedly" during individual or group therapy situations or are consciously introduced into the group by the leader. Therefore I call these "group issues". Such issues include love, closeness, fear of others, aggression, the body, sexuality, man/women, separation, death, the hero and demons within us, the relation to the divine, and others. These are a few of the many that can be examined on a very deep level.

Working with these issues in the group allows the participants: a) to discover and transform his or her own deep beliefs. By getting to know and exercise various ways of accessing core material. They will b) gain a basic understanding of how to explore their own self. For instance, they will learn to change states of consciousness, experience their bodies, investigate feelings, come into contact with the child, or express posture or movement in words and symbols, etc.

Experiential work with these issues in the group as well as continuous exchange between the therapist and one client or more produces: c) trust and coherence in the group. The participants have the opportunity to honestly encounter meaningful questions in their lives, open up, and perceive and perhaps be amazed by the similarities and also differences experienced by others. Dealing with just one of these issues can demand a part of a session, an entire one or even several. If a therapist plans to thoroughly elaborate on a certain issue, it is helpful to spread it out over several sessions and to apply various accessing methods so that the entire group has time to develop the topic.

Different Ways of Accessing

I would like to suggest 15 different ways of accessing that can lead to the unfolding of an issue. I have occasionally included a few examples for clarification. These accessing methods should be of practical help to you in order to prepare a topic for your therapy group or your workshops. They also apply if spontaneous situations arise in the group.

Here is a list of 15 methods:

1. Sharing experiences.

2. Accessing the body.

3. Accessing memories.

4. Accessing emotions.

5. Probes.

6. Allowing expression of words.

7. Encounter in mindfulness.

8. Taking-over techniques.

9. Visualizations.

10. Guided fantasies.

11. Hakomi drama.

12. Playing.

13. Physicalizing.

14. Creating barriers.

15. Expression through use of other mediums and methods (music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc.).

1. Sharing experience

I often start by having the group exchange information and share their experience on a certain issue, so that it clearly becomes conscious of an issue. I introduce the subject "myself and the relationship to ......." such as others or aggression, etc. Then I suggest that they express themselves in a large circle or split off into groups of two, three or four.

2. Accessing the Body

Every participant gets into mindfulness and investigates his or her body with respect to this issue. For example, if the topic is "closeness to others" the exercise can be introduced with questions like: ´Imagine that you feel really close to another person, how and where do you notice this in your body? How do you hold your body when you are really near to someone? What distance is your body to his or hers that you are close to?" If the group issue is "aggression" you could ask, "if aggression arises, how do you notice this in your body? If you were really furious or enraged, how would your body move? What kind of impulses do you notice in your body? How do you block these impulses ?"

3. Accessing Memories

If you begin with accessing memories, you should suggest a memory to arise that is related to a certain issue or perhaps seems to be distantly related to it. Again using the issue of "closeness" as an example you can" let a memory of a certain situation arise, a moment in which you felt really close to someone, really longed for someone or really feared to be close to someone", etc. Of course you can also suggest the time of the memory (early childhood, during the recent years, etc.).

4. Accessing Emotions

Here you can use the well-known deepening questions. For example, with the issue of aggression: "if you allow anger to arise, what kind of anger is it? Is it more of a burning or cold anger? If the anger could express itself, what would it say, etc.?" You could use accessing methods #2 and #3 here as well.

5. Probes

You can start by giving the entire group a probe. After you have brought the participants into mindfulness, an effective method is to give a probe several times. This way you can direct their attention towards different modalities of experience (thoughts, feelings, body sensations, memories, etc.). You can also give a variety of probes on one subject. For example, if the "father"

issue is used, several different probes can be given such as "you can forgive your father" and then in contrast, "what your father did to you was inexcusable", etc. With the issue of the mother, "you can be close to your mother" or "you can leave your mother", etc. It is best to proceed slowly in order to allow the participants time to perceive what arises. There should also be the opportunity to express the present inner experience to the group without losing mindfulness. If possible, the participant should stay exactly how and where he or she is, physically (sitting, standing or lying perhaps with the eyes closed) and experientially. This trains everybody to be in contact with his or her experience and to express it. Also, by expressing themselves in this way, a participant opens up space inside for a new and deeper experience. You can easily contact every report and create safety for everybody in order to proceed with the process. It is probably a courageous act for several to express their inner experience to the group. This is made easier, though, because usually nobody reacts openly and everything can stay just the way it is. It's a relief for some to be able to hear that others are similarly or deeply touched. A go-around or check-in in this way can be very useful to you as group leader because you can then get a general impression of what each person is experiencing. It can give you a hint as to whether the group is ready to accept instructions for a further deepening of the experience or whether it's better to temporarily take a break and proceed with individual work within the group. This check-in can also be used with most of the other accessing methods.

6. Allowing Expression of Words

With this technique, the participants are in a state of mindfulness and repeat words from a certain topic that you suggest. They are said out loud so that everyone one can listen to his or her own words. The participants sense and observe their inner reactions while saying the words. It is enough for many just to think of the words and check their inner reactions. The therapist’s fantasy is not limited when choosing words. It is recommended, though, that the therapist stick to certain words that contain some feeling of "allowing" or "permission". For example, "it's possible to love" or "I'm allowed to be angry" or "I'm a good person", etc. Perhaps one can use words that most likely elicit a strong relationship to the inner experience such as "mother" or "Mom" or "God", etc.

7. Encounter in Mindfulness

This accessing method takes on a special position in the group because it promotes communication and brings the participants closer to each other. At the same time the person can learn to exactly differentiate between his own typical reaction patterns and specific reactions to another participant of the group. A couple of examples: If the group is working with the "closeness" issue, you can suggest that everybody walk around the room with their eyes closed and engage another with body contact and at the same time observe themselves. The therapist should continually enhance mindfulness for what is happening in the individuals. For me, it is always important to focus my attention on what the people notice or perceive, the risks that they may take (or not), their needs or that which will make them feel comfortable, etc. Similar exercises can also be used in pairs. For example, again if "closeness" is used you can tell the two: "you should touch each other in the state of mindfulness or "be touched in mindfulness", "approach each other in the state of mindfulness", "be embraced" or "look at each other in the eyes", etc. When using the issue of "aggression" half of the participants (i.e. those examining themselves) can find an expression for their anger such as a sentence that summarizes their entire rage (but he or she shouldn't attack the other), or perhaps find a sound that expresses the anger, or a body movement that describes, represents or contains the anger. This self-found expression of anger can be shown to the partner. Such exercises in mindfulness are naturally also interesting for the "helper" who has been previously instructed in this role by the therapist. Encounters in the mindfulness are very powerful. The participants of a group can experience and learn a great deal, especially if basic feelings such a fear, pain, sadness, anger, joy, are encountered, or basic needs such as "to ask for help", or "express the wish to be closer", etc, or longings such as "to be seen in the way one really is", or "to be able to open one's heart", etc. At times the experience can be accompanied by too much fear. In this case, a deep experience of some kind, they can be invited to take a step back and investigate the fear, expectations, hopes and longings.

8. Taking-Over Techniques

The therapist can hardly take over for the entire group. Rather the participants can split off into smaller groups and take over various issues such as thoughts, body impulses (active) and tension (passive). They have to be carefully instructed in this technique though. An important point during taking over is that the partners learn to tune into each other. This will have a positive effect not only on the relationship between the partners but also on the whole group as well.

9. Visualizations

Visualizations can be a good technique for the entire group if you want to give all participants an opportunity to take a glance at what comes beyond the barrier. Some may even have a chance to grow roots in the territory beyond the barrier. I mostly use visualization after having thoroughly worked on a certain issue with the participants. If not, they will often not be free enough to visualize. For example, if the group is working with the issue of sexuality and the therapist tells the people to visualize a fulfilled sexual experience in the first session, the exercise will certainly be interesting for a few, but you can assume that many will not be able to visualize because thoughts and feelings will arise in connection with this issue that block the vision. At the end of a series of therapeutic sessions when the issue has been understood from many sides and angles, and after everyone has expressed himself, then there is room for such a visualization. As a therapist you can take a lot of time to accumulate experiences of looking beyond the barrier. For example, with the issue of sexuality you can ask, "if you see the fulfillment of sexuality within yourself, what do you notice in your breathing and in your body?... What kind of movement (perhaps its only a small one that's not even visible from the outside) would correspond to your fulfilled sexuality?... Now, if possible, let this movement take place. What words would accompany this movement? What words would this movement say? Let a symbol emerge from this movement...", etc.

10 Guided Fantasies

Guided fantasies are a good opportunity for the entire group to investigate core material and decisions made early in life. You start in a similar way as in accessing memories. Two points are especially productive in guided fantasies: 1. If the person is experiencing his memories, as for example being in contact with his inner child in a very special past situation, you direct the individual towards the meaning, towards the decision that his child made. The therapist may either talk directly to the child or through the adult to the child. Most desirable is if the participants are allowed to find exact words for the decisions they made as children about themselves, about the world and about others. 2. At this time a fantasy-being can be introduced. The therapist may suggest that the person allow a figure of magical or archetypal origin to emerge within his or her childhood scene, for example a fairy, a magician of good intent, a wise old man who "wishes you all the best", a magical figure who fulfills his or her deepest wishes and longings or perhaps a magician who changes the entire childhood scene so that the person (as a child) is happy. Through the kind of accessing and deepening questions used, the person is again led into the experience of this new scene. The therapist naturally does not want to meddle with the individuals biography in a manipulative way by using this "magical" resource. It is a good idea to clearly state this to the participants. By this magic way they are simply given the opportunity to get in touch with deepest needs and longings that the child had abandoned because they didn't seem to have room in life, and that still sleep within.

Here are topics for guided fantasies that I have often used in different groups and that have proven most effective: "birthday as a child", "Christmas", "at the dinner table", "an special time/place of my childhood", "the way to school", "being sick one time", "one time I was really afraid", "in my bed", "my birth", "the moment of my conception", "an earlier life of mine", etc. Obviously guided fantasies don't always have to take place in the childhood. They can also be in the future, during the time of death, on a distant planet or whatever the therapist believes to be most productive. Central concerns, barriers, beliefs and solutions are almost always found within the symbols of the experience.

11. Hakomi Drama

Hakomi drama is based on the method of psychodrama developed by Moreno. If an important scene emerges from a group issue or from individual work, roles can be assigned and played. The client (or protagonist) informs others of their roles. In the first round, it has been shown to be effective for the protagonist to watch the others play out his or her drama. Later, in the following rounds the protagonist takes over the different roles one after the other and can investigate him- or herself with the help and support of the therapist. The therapist not only oversees the entire drama but also has the protagonist keenly in sight and is always prepared to stop the event and examine issues in the mindful state.

Hakomi drama is not goal-oriented. Therefore it is not important to carry out the entire drama and play out all of the roles. The most important point is to single out the most decisive moment and then investigate certain matters with the help of various Hakomi techniques. Everything is oriented towards self-examination of the protagonist and therefore it's possible that the drama is left unfinished. Perhaps the protagonist watches how the others begin to play his scene for just three minutes and individual therapy is triggered. In this case three minutes are enough to set an important issue in motion. My experience has shown that this is fully O.K. for the other group participants. They are often deeply moved and find similarities in themselves from the roles that they have played or watched. Later, the participants almost always suggest a new drama based on their own childhood. The therapist can complete the Hakomi drama by encouraging the actors to share their experiences in the roles that they have played. Therapeutic work can result from sharing as well.

So called "deroling" should follow every role playing. The role playing partners (also in Hakomi drama) sit in front of each other, look into each others eyes and dissociate each other from their role. In this way, a transfer of projections and feelings to other group members that arose during the role-playing are let go. I suggest a standard sentence to all deroling group members as for example, "I am not your father, I'm Fred and I am your friend".

Hakomi drama is very conducive to the group climate. There is a lot of fun and depth involved at the same time.

12. Playing

You can transform almost every issue into play in which the group participants can exchange interesting experiences with each other. Children's play is often intensively experienced and offers many opportunities including therapeutic accessing on the child level. A great deal of memories spontaneously appear in child play and very special dynamics develop between the individuals.

The generally well known ritualized games such hopscotch, pin the tail on the donkey, hide and seek, and others can be used in child play as well as those made-up on the spot. If a therapist doesn't have children, visiting a playground or looking through children's books immediately refreshes the memory.

13. Physicalizing

Physicalizing is also a good technique that can be used for the entire group. An issue, conflict or question is transformed and made physical. By using this method, the participants can, for instance, investigate their ambivalence within the group. I would like to present an easy-to-understand description. Almost everybody finds a part within himself that not only enjoys being in the group but also has a need to be there. Another part feels resistance and fear to encounter others, or to go inside of oneself or something similar. Physicalizing can be a way to have a closer look at these different parts and the meaning of this conflict. To support each other participants split into pairs. Let's say A starts with the mindful self-exploration. So person B pulls A's body in the direction of the door in order to physically express A's part that wants to get away from the group. This pulling of B on A should be "dosed" so that A gets in contact with the part that wants to stay and thereby investigates arguments, feelings and beliefs in mindfulness. Then A investigates the other part of himself. For this, B takes over the part in A that wants to stay in the group. B physically expresses this wish by stubbornly sitting in one place during which A takes on the part of "wanting to walk in the direction of the door". Then he or she tries to find words for body posture/movements and explores feelings and attitudes. A can then switch with B after sharing or after individual work in the large group.

14. Creating and Investigating Barriers

In order for the group to create and investigate barriers together, the therapist introduces an opportunity for participants to come into contact with a deep longing or need such as to experience the closeness of another person, be seen, be liked or be welcomed, etc. Now the therapist suggests that the participants use their imagination in a way that visualizes the possible fulfillment by an "offer", for example from another person. But due to an unknown reason, the person must now tense or tighten up against the reception of this offer. He or she resists, closes down or creates thoughts against the offer. The therapist then poses a question as for example, "how do you exactly block this offer like touching, closeness, affection, friendly glance, etc. from reaching your inner self? Do you do this with your body? Can you also do this with your thoughts? What are your other possibilities", etc.? The participants arbitrarily produce a barrier and that way frequently confront their own personal, naturally inherent barriers and often its background as well (memories, etc.). In my opinion there is special value in occasionally experiencing barriers voluntarily produced by oneself. It is often easier to investigate the exact composition and meaning of certain barriers under these `active' conditions.

Another advantage of the "creating barriers" technique is that the participants don't always feel submit to their barriers but gain a strong feeling of causing and responsibility through conscious and active creation of experiences.

15. Use of Other Mediums and Methods

The use of other mediums and methods always offers a relaxing change. Here again your imaginations are not limited at all. For example the group can use music. Everyone can mindfully experience the improvisation of music together. Voice and/or instruments can be used. Special types of music can also be heard in the mindful state (drums, songs of whales, classical music, the favorite music of one or more of the participants, etc.). The group can paint something spontaneously or based on a certain issue, feel the essence of it and then perhaps describe the pictures in movement or sound. Dance and movement can be a lot of fun and an excellent medium to research oneself. Others find it worthwhile to study videos of themselves in mindfulness.

B. The Transition of Individual into Group Work


It is necessary to structure time in order for group work to have enough space. Individual work in the group should be kept to 2-40 minutes. It rarely lasts longer. What I mean by " individual work" is everything that happens between the therapist and one group participant from using contact statements to the transformational work including integration. The therapist must have the willingness to leave issues "incomplete", find temporary conclusions, be able to patch the situation over and perhaps give the individual some homework. It is an opportunity for both, client and therapist, to gain trust in small but steady steps. If the structuring of time, though, comes out of the therapists' attempt to please all of the participants, then difficult dynamics can arise within the group. Above all, the therapist will burn himself out.


If the therapist wants to include the group into the therapeutic process of an individual, it is specially effective if that particular individual work is shifted into a group experience. The entire group can benefit from what the individual has worked on. The participants are usually moved by the individual work, sometimes by the suffering, pain or other feelings that a person expresses, by the brave way that they handle their difficulties or the way some overcome major problems. As the therapist, you can support these valuable moments of openness in the group by encouraging the participants to express them. Some special moving moments, though, are better left silently shared and celebrated.

The therapist can follow up an issue derived from individual work with the entire group by means of an exercise. For example, if a participant has worked on a very painful separation process and the therapist notices that others in the group are quite moved (keep on tracking !), then you can offer this issue to the entire group by using one of the fifteen accessing methods mentioned above. In this case for example, the participants are led into mindfulness and the therapist suggests they let an important person emerge in their minds. Somebody "who has left your life, from whom you really haven't completed the separation." The participant can look this person in the eyes and start a dialog with him or her. With this special feeling of separation the participant can then regress back through his or her life and observe the memories that arise. Also the kinds of decision that were made during these moments or the kinds of decisions that could have been made can also be observed, felt and investigated, etc.

The end of the exercise may be a sharing between two or more participants so that everybody has the opportunity to express their experience in a small group before the therapist proceeds in the large one with this issue.

The group is motivated in participating in the individual work because they know there is going to be a shift of main issues and feelings of the individual work to group exercises. This approach has shown to be especially important if a group has not been together for a long time and their interest and/or compassion for the others have not yet developed. Letting the group participate is also effective with people who have been together for a long time. The exercise derived from individual work offers all the participants an opportunity to follow their own issues and to investigate what has been set in motion. This allows the participants not to store up or "repress" more and more reactions and impressions in a therapy session. That way, listening and participating is not directing people away from their own issues, but towards them. People learn to keenly discriminate when compassionate feelings arise or when something particular from their own story is triggered. It is also interesting for me to see how certain issues capture the entire group and occupy them. I often use this procedure to pick up on the group process and help deepen it.

Sometimes an individual piece of work is very tough. You can reach a really "solid" barrier. In an individual session a therapist would approach this barrier with a lot of patience and investigate it with different options. I would not recommend doing this too often in a group setting. If somebody's process is too drawn out, maybe even with whispering voices, then the rest of the group won't understand anything and will become restless, or sleepy, or other group members will react negatively. The other participants' reactions may be of great help for lightening up the individual process at hand, if the therapist can use them in a proper way.

Therefore I would like to add a few techniques and interventions to handle group dynamics at this point.

1. Reframing

It seems to be good to reframe conflicts in the group once in a while. Interpret them as an opportunity for clearing important relationship issues for everybody. The therapist can do that when he starts the group: He would talk about interpersonal crises in daily life, how reactions are causing reactions, causing both parties to protect more and more. He would describe how interpersonal systems get tighter and tighter, how they loose their openness and honesty, and usually break up. He can use his knowledge of characterology to illustrate interpersonal systems on the background of basic believes. He can switch then to the group situation and show the difference: crises are likely to happen here too, but they can take another course. It is always an opportunity to get clear about the roots of ones relational strategies. So interpersonal crises in the group are not something to avoid, rather something to get really interested in.

2. Accessing the Crises in Imagery

Imagining their own crisis in the group, accessing it, and sharing about it, can give group participants valuable insights and makes this crisis something manageable, something that can be faced and talked about.

The therapist would lead them into mindfulness and ask for the situation they are most afraid of. What the fear is about. What they could do to avoid this crisis to happen. And in contrary to that: what they could do to bring up this crisis. And suppose crisis would be right here, what they could do about it. Whether there are possible emergency signals possible, when fear is getting too much. What could make it safe in this crisis. With what they could feel good, etc.

3. Including Group Reaction

The therapist announces that in the next three group sessions for example he would like to integrate the reactions of group participants into the individual work more deeply: starting the work with one participant as usually, would stop after a short while and ask the others for responses and then continue the work with the new material and information from others. The therapist explains that it can be an opportunity for everyone in the group to precisely investigate what kind of reactions we are causing, how we do that and from what underlying core belief. Of course people are afraid of these direct and open approach first, but once started they get really interested and enthusiastic about it and the chance they have to get clear about the reactions in their environment that they are causing all the time. Often they want to continue this route for many more sessions.

4.Covert Integration of Group Reactions

Suppose a group reaction towards a participant in a process is building up and the therapist does track that in the very beginning when this reaction is not yet fully established.

He can now integrate these informations in the individual work. If for example the group starts to get a little nervous listening, the therapist could address his contact statements and questions to the topic of attention, need of attention, fear of loosing attention and experiences around situations in which the participant was trying to be listened to. Or the therapist could integrate his tracking information in a probe, for example "I like to listen to you". Usually there is no further counter-reaction in the group the moment the main issue is consciously addressed.

I remember our annual HAKOMI-celebration a few years ago. We decided to look at one of Ron's therapy video tapes. About 60 to 80 people where watching Ron lying on the floor listening to a middle aged woman who was trying to explain her problem to him for quite a long time. After half an hour people got nervous in front of the video. After about 40 minutes almost everyone was either nervously moving, scratching, or starting to talk to a neighbor. Some suggested a short break, some refused that, some wanted to have the window open, some complained about cold air that would come in. The atmosphere was tense. Everything was stuck. Right at this moment we heard (through one ear that was still open) Ron very gently saying the name of this woman and "....I am very patient with you". There was a moment of silence not only on the woman’s face in the video, but in the audience too. No more scratching and complaining. Everyone was totally there, fully concentrated and deeply touched, when we saw this woman falling apart with tears, as if she had waited for these compassionate words for ages.

5. Creating and Investigating Barriers

I already explained this accessing method above. It seems to be a good technique to include the group, especially if the individual process stagnates and a counter-reaction in the group is building up. The therapist first finds a temporary conclusion in the individual work. For example both, therapist and client can try to name and describe the barrier. The therapist then selects the most overlapping and suitable conflict from the barrier, one that most of the others can relate to (a good knowledge of character theory can be a big help here). It may be important to offer a deep longing or need. Then the group is invited to investigate this issue together.

For example, a therapist is working with a group member and gets stuck at the oral barrier. The first signs of nervousness and weariness from the others are starting to show. The therapist then finds a temporary completion with the client and invites the group to imagine an important person in their lives to lovingly look at them, to hold them protectively warm. In this particular experiment, though, the participants should examine how they can block the experience, how they can make it possible that the nourishment not be let in, or how it can be done that it doesn't reach their inner self.

With this exercise the participants often recognize their own individual kind of barrier. They can study its make-up and are usually confronted with the fear, pain and childhood memories that are hidden behind it. The client who was responsible for triggering the issue in the group can again investigate his inner organization from the active, barrier-producing point of view. He or she is now free from the pressure that can arise during tough moments in the group and can succeed in gaining important insights.

The therapist can continue by having the participants share in pairs, within the large group, or in individual work. Perhaps the individual work that was previously interrupted can be continued and further insights gained. I feel that at this point it is good if the therapist says something about barriers: that they protect us from something; what kinds of reactions are triggered in others and how one can always confirm or uphold his or her own beliefs with these barriers. In this way, a further understanding and compassion for themselves and others can be promoted, and perhaps humor as well.

From the view of group dynamics, the therapist, by using this method, can protect an individual from the counter-transference reactions of the entire group if employed in the proper moment. Instead, the group is engaged in taking over a conflict. The therapist's sensibility and awareness will tell him when this is advised or when it is probably better to incorporate the reactions of the group into the individual work. In any case, it is misleading to simply continue working with a person's barrier if the entire group goes into a reaction. This counter-reaction will be felt or taken in either consciously or unconsciously and will prevent the client to have any positive transforming experience around his barrier. It will also make the group climate less safe.

6. Integrate Information through Sharing

If I track something is going on in the group while I am doing individual work, I sometimes include the group in this work by asking them to share there responses or insights. Almost always there is a piece of good information in it, or some compassionate remarks that are moving for the one who is working. People are encouraged to participate and to support each other that way, and they learn to appreciate that. Sometimes it is necessary though to explore contributions for background information that can be useful for the client, especially if there are counter-reactions against one participant. Counter-reactions almost always fit into the clients history (like complementary counter-transferences), and lead us to the origins of there belief structures pretty fast. I usually track the client while others are sharing their responses, and I stop the process of sharing if I notice reactions in him. I will contact him, ask him what he is experiencing, what this reminds him of, or I ask him to take in the responses like a probe and find words for it.

6. Emotional Stress Techniques

Suppose the therapist did not realize early enough that a strong reaction in the group has been building up against the one who is working. The techniques mentioned above seem to be out of place in such a moment. At the same time it seems impossible to continue the individual work in mindfulness with considerable tension in the group. Of course the therapist still can reframe the situation or refer to the time when he predicted and reframed interpersonal crises. Above that I'd like to give a few examples that will show you some additional options.

Let's say the group is charged up by a fully established emotional reaction. Maybe a number of people are really pissed or boiling with anger.

If the therapist has an intuition for what is at the core of the reaction, he could put the individual work on hold, let everybody know that he is aware something powerful is going on around the individual work, and give a probe(a) to the whole group (like "You are not responsible for anybody’s feelings") and let them share in pairs. This works if the therapist hits the core issue with his probe.

Or the therapist uses the emotional stress point to give everybody a chance to investigate his or her own stress pattern(b) or stress strategies. After gently interrupting the individual work he could give a few examples of how people usually react to interpersonal conflicts (..."some of you might withdraw or wish to get out of this place as soon as possible...some might intensely wish that we would soon be in harmony again and close to each other no matter if we have solved the problem or not...some may think of this conflict as a challenge that requires their strength to develop...etc."). The therapist gives them some time to explore that and let them share in small groups later.

It can also feel appropriate to the therapist to simply let people act out(c) their tension or anger. When I do that I let people find their own place in the room, and ask them to allow a movement to arise or a sound that expresses their tension or feelings. Usually some hit pillows, some scream and shout, some start to dance and some cannot concentrate at all during such a turmoil. I usually sit beside the one I was working with, if he or she is not participating in this acting out experience, and hold their hand. Sometimes it seems to be good to ask for mindfulness after a while, so that everybody can find words and meaning for their movement and sounds, and a connection to their own character. People then share, and I talk with the one who triggered all these reactions. We usually find out that he or she is afraid of those strong reactions since childhood, where they took place, openly or covertly. There is almost always a deep wish to freak out in the same outrageous ways.

If two participants have a deeper conflict with each other the therapist can treat them like a couple and do a little HAKOMI-couple-therapy(d).

I remember a situation in one of my therapy groups where one participant got so angry towards a woman I was working with that he started to yell at her. The woman was very startled first and looked him in the eyes. He could hardly stop himself from becoming violent. I allowed this encounter for a few seconds till I had the feeling that more of this would be damaging. Intuitively I moved between(e) the two of them, looking in the eyes of the yelling man. I nodded and indicated to go on if he liked. Now he had a chance to really let all of his anger out, knowing at the same time that it was his anger he could learn something about. I didn't have any impulse to stop him from that because he was a pretty inhibited person and usually didn't show any feeling at all. The woman behind me had already started to burst into tears the moment I stepped between them protecting her. While I was with my back to her, other group participants took care of her. She had deeply wished someone would protect her in `dangerous' situations since her childhood when her angry father had been beating her all the time. The same happened with her first husband. So we ended up with two important sessions triggered by this intense conflict.

There is a huge number of other techniques you can utilize or create yourself for group dynamics within the HAKOMI-principles. I hope I was able to show you some directions you can go as a therapist and to inspire your own creativity.