When Hakomi meets oriental medicine

Korean oriental medicine doctors are embracing "Hakomi," a body-centred, somatic psychotherapy developed in the United States, to treat mental illnesses.

Professor Kang Hyung-won of Wonkang University Oriental Medical Center has been leading a group of doctors to develop Hakomi-based programs to treat mental and emotional disorders from depression to "hwabyeong," a repressed anger syndrome.

The word originates from the Hopi Indian language, meaning "How do you stand in relation to these many realms?"

The group recently won a project grant from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to develop therapeutic programs for post-traumatic stress disorder patients. Kang plans to apply Hakomi to existing oriental medicine therapies for the programme.

"Hakomi is powerful. It helps both patients and practitioners to experience amazing changes," Kang told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at his clinic located in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province.

"The most difficult part when treating post-traumatic stress disorder patients is that they are emotionally unstable. The Hakomi method, however, makes patients feel safe and discover good and positive resources from themselves and help them move forward," he said.

In the US, a majority of PTSD patients are those who experienced war and those who went through a series of natural disasters in Japan. However, most PTSD patients in Korea have had traffic accidents.

"There are many who were suffering from PTSD after they had a car accident. But they don't usually have chances to treat their mental illness because PTSD though a traffic accidents doesn't get insurance coverage nor is it recognised as a mental disorder," Kang said.

The number of PTSD patients is on rise along with emergence of violent random crimes and particularly, child sex crimes, he said, noting that Hakomi method would have positive results in patients.

What is Hakomi?

Created in the late 1970s by Ron Kurtz, Hakomi is a psychotherapy method that helps people transform themselves through working with core materials ― mindfulness of body, emotions and memories.

Hakomi is a body-centred counseling method that focuses on body-mind connection and help people to pay attention to themselves with no judgment but with acceptance.

"Hakomi is about change, but puts emphasis on clients' ability to understand themselves and change it some way," said Donna Roy, a US-based Hakomi teacher and therapist.

"It goes directly to deepest truth in people, help them feel empowered and understand themselves, their mind and body, in holistic way," she added.

Hakomi combines both western psychology and non-violence principles of eastern philosophies including Buddhism and Taoism.

This is why it fits well with oriental medicine, Kang said.

"The philosophy of oriental medicine that sees a human body as a holistic system or a small universe is similar to that of Hakomi. Connection between mind and body. Hakomi also shares common ground with oriental medicine," he said.

There are currently about 350 certified Hakomi therapists in the US, Europe and Japan, according to Roy, and six in Korea including Kang and Seo Joo-hee., a doctor at the Department of Korean Neuropsychiatry at National Medical Center in Seoul.

"Why Hakomi fascinates me is that it has a big impact even with small intervention," Seo said.

Hakomi in Korea

Hakomi first was introduced in Korea 10 years ago by counseling teachers to provide therapeutic programs for students causing problems at school. The method has been practiced by only a few therapists so far, but Kang and Seo plan to promote the method across the country starting next year.

"We are planning to hold sessions at cultural centers to introduce Hakomi to general public. And we hope to develop more programs that suit well with schools in the future," he said.

Developing programs combining Hakomi could possibly help many young Koreans suffering from complex mental illnesses. A recent report showed that the suicide rate among Koreans in their 20s topped all other OECD-member nations.

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