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The Legacy of Ron Kurtz

 

Ron Kurtz, who died on January 4, 2011, is internationally recognized as the creator of Hakomi and author of Body-Centered Psychotherapy: the Hakomi Method. 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.

 

In 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 attention 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.

 

Kurtz was greatly influenced and inspired by Moshe Feldenkrais and how healing can be approached as learning. 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.

 

Meanwhile Kurtz continued to create and experiment; he 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 Hakomi. 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. The focus in his trainings shifted 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 "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 confirms 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 his way of working, still called Hakomi, to a more and more simple 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.

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