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Hakomi Therapy – Meaning, Key concepts, and techniques

Hakomi Therapy – Meaning, Key concepts, and techniques

Updated on Jul 07, 2023

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Hakomi Therapy - Meaning, Key Concepts, Techniques & So Much More

Key Takeaways

  • Hakomi therapy is somatic psychotherapy that involves body-mind integration.
  • It is a mindfulness practice that keeps the client grounded in the present moment.
  • The client is made to experience the unconscious materials by experiencing them in the present situation.
  • The goal of this therapy is inner healing through self reflection and awareness.
  • Hakomi therapy was founded in 1970 by Ron Kurtz, an experimental psychologist teaching at Indiana University.
  • Hakomi relies on the fact that problematic behavior is a product of faulty beliefs, cognitive biases, and repressed thoughts.

Hakomi therapy is a type of experiential body-centered therapy that aims to unleash past pain and sufferings through active mindfulness.

The therapy provides an accepting territory for the client to explore, accept, and remain aware of their inner processes.

The goal of this method is to promote behavioral change and changing of perceptions that may lead to faulty thoughts and limiting beliefs about people and surroundings.

In this article, we will talk in detail about the core concepts, techniques, and usefulness of this therapy.

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Hakomi Therapy – Meaning, Key concepts, and techniques
Hakomi Therapy – Meaning, Principles and Uses
Hakomi Therapy – Meaning, Key concepts, and techniques
Hakomi Therapy – Techniques

Hakomi therapy – Meaning

Hakomi therapy is an experiential method of self-awareness. It is a form of somatic therapy that aims for emotional well-being by focusing on the connections between mind and body. It promotes meditation and mindfulness.

Hakomi therapy is a specific form of psychotherapy. It offers a mindful and body-centered perspective of psychotherapy.

Hakomi therapy uses experiential techniques together with somatic awareness. As a result of this treatment, an individual can achieve positive mental growth.

Let us try to understand this concept in simple terms.

First, we have to know what somatic psychotherapy means. Also known as body-centered psychotherapy, this particular branch of psychotherapy involves somatic experiences.

This form of psychotherapy believes in the concept of body-mind holism.

This means that an individual’s body and somatic experiences are at the same level of importance as the mind.

Hakomi therapy, also known as the Hakomi method, also believes in this same principle.

This is a form of experiential psychotherapy. The main aim of this form of therapy is to help individuals to achieve psychological as well as personal growth.

The main idea behind Hakomi therapy is that every individual’s body contains some internalized beliefs and thought patterns that are unconscious.

Professionals trained in Hakomi therapy can start consensual touch with the subject or individual. Thus, they try to expose these unconscious thoughts.

We will discuss in detail the procedure of Hakomi therapy in the later sections.

Key principles of Hakomi therapy

The key principles of the Hakomi method are mindfulness, non-violence, mind-body integration, unity, and organicity.

The foundation of Hakomi Therapy relies upon certain key principles.

Using these principles, certified Hakomi therapists try to bridge the gap between the client’s conscious and unconscious thoughts.

These principles together serve as a framework. With the help of this framework, the Hakomi practitioners bring forth the unconscious core material of the client’s thoughts.

American psychologist Ron Kurtz is generally considered the founder of Hakomi therapy.

In the next section of this article, we will discuss the historical development of Hakomi therapy.

Kurtz defined five principles that he considered the foundation of Hakomi therapy. These principles were mindfulness, non-violence, mind-body integration, unity, and organicity.

Let us now look at these principles.

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be another term for concentration. It means being completely aware of what is happening in a person’s surroundings. 

Through a mindfulness-based approach, clients can be able to access their own core beliefs.  This would not have been possible otherwise. 

This allows the clients to be in the present moment. Thus, they can talk freely about their present experience.

Sometimes, the access to present experiences helps to unleash the past wounds that were hidden beneath the surface and never got a chance to reveal themselves.

In Hakomi therapy, mindfulness is meant to bring conscious awareness. Both the client and therapist spend time being present in the moments.

Mindfulness helps you to become aware of all the subtle experiences. The somatic sensations associated with emotions are consciously processed internally for complete healing.

2. Non-violence

In most other branches of psychotherapy, clients consider the therapist as an authority figure or instructor. 

But Hakomi therapists practice non-violence by befriending the clients. This creates a unique bond between the client and therapist. 

This allows the client to share their beliefs and behaviors with the therapist more openly.

3. Mind-body integration

This is another key idea of the Hakomi principle. Both the body and the mind are important for the improvement of mental health.

Hakomi suggests that the mind and body are not isolated. Rather they are one whole. Your emotional experiences and way of thinking directly impact your physical sensations.

For example, if you are suffering from a particular phobia, you’ll feel various bodily sensations such as sweating, racing heart, palpitations, hot flashes, etc.

The example makes it clear that your emotional experiences get conveyed or manifested in non-verbal ways.

You will always perceive these somatic sensations clearly. From this, comes the Hakomi principle of Mind-body holism.

4. Unity

According to the principle of unity, as used in Hakomi’s therapy sessions, living beings are whole entities made up of individual parts. 

In the context of Hakomi therapy, this means that the process of healing is a sum of the interactions at all levels. 

This includes physical, physiological, metabolic, family, cultural and spiritual levels. Nothing operates in isolation. You’ll always perceive things as a whole. 

The client is made to realize that healing is a collective journey. The therapist helps the client to experience joy and share their pains with them.

In this way, the healing process is supported by the therapist.

5. Organicity 

Organicity means to honor each person’s individualistic nature. In other words, this means that Hakomi therapists believe that every person’s core material is different. 

This core material shapes a person’s thoughts and beliefs. So, Hakomi therapists do not impose any particular instructions or suggestions.

Hakomi therapists allow the person to heal in a way that the person subconsciously wants.

Hakomi relies upon that a client has an innate ability to heal. Their wisdom and insight help them to unleash the core materials to conscious awareness.

The concept of loving presence

Ten years after formulating these five principles, Ron Kurtz also gave importance to another principle. He called this a “loving presence.”

Many researchers in the field of Hakomi consider loving presence as a ’glue’. This glue holds together Kurtz’s original five principles.

What does it mean to have a loving presence? In simple terms, it means valuing the inner beauty, good nature, and good qualities inside each person.

This allows people to become self-loving and self-accepting by nature.

Hakomi researchers also consider two other principles to be crucial in Hakomi’s theory. These are, as follows:

  • Truth: This principle encourages the client to be truthful to the therapist. A client may feel uncomfortable while sharing things from his or her everyday life. Yet, it is the therapist’s responsibility to make friends with the client. They also need to support their resistance.
  • Change: This means the willingness to accept change. The client has to trust the process and be acceptable towards moving on and evolving.

The concept of being present

The present moment refers to’ here and now,’ living the moment as it occurs. Hakomi therapists believe that the present moment awareness is the state that holds past pains and trauma in an unhealed form.

The client is not conscious of those pains unless tapped through the therapeutic process.

Historical background of Hakomi therapy

The founder of Hakomi therapy is the American psychologist Ron Kurtz. But how did this come about? What were his thoughts and motivation behind this?

Kurtz’s basic idea was to combine eastern and western modalities. He wanted to create mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy. 

This would give equal importance to the client’s conscious and unconscious thoughts, as well as their somatic experiences.

Kurtz formulated his theory in the mid-1970s. It was then known as the ‘Ron Kurtz Method of Body-Centered Psychotherapy.

He drew his influence from the principles of Buddhism and Taoism. He was also inspired by many works on somatic psychology. This included Gestalt therapy, the Feldenkrais method, etc.

Later developments of the Hakomi method

In 1980, some of Kurtz’s followers started working together. They wanted to further develop his theory and popularize it. 

One of those followers named David Winter was the first person to come up with the term ‘Hakomi’. 

Winter saw a dream that he was giving Kurtz a piece of stationery that had the name ‘Hakomi Institute’ written on it.

Winter started searching extensively across ancient literature for the meaning of this term. He found it in a Hopi lexicon.

The term Hakomi means “Where do I stand in relation to the many realms?” 

Readers can easily understand that the meaning of the term closely relates to the actual principles of Hakomi therapy.

In 1981, Kurtz and his followers founded the Hakomi Institute in the city of Boulder, in the state of Colorado in the United States of America. Over 40 years later, the institute is still functioning.

It offers several workshops and training throughout the year. People who want to become certified Hakomi practitioners can participate in these workshops.

Apart from that, the institute also offers a variety of therapeutic processes for clients who want to heal using Hakomi therapy.

What happens in a Hakomi therapy session?

Hakomi therapy is sometimes also referred to as ‘Hakomi mindful somatic psychotherapy’. 

As the reader can easily understand from the name, this is mindfulness, somatic, and experience-based approach. This aims at improving the mental health of an individual.

Hakomi therapy is an integrated process to work with the core beliefs of a client.

In a Hakomi therapy session, the therapist aims at achieving three objectives. These are, as follows:

  1. To create a bond with the client so that the client can comfortably share his or her inner thoughts and feelings
  2. Allow the client to follow their somatic experiences that support their inner thoughts
  3. To find ways to make the client’s core beliefs evolve to solve their own problems

But it is important to remember that every client is unique. Every person has their own individual thoughts. These thoughts manifest from inner beliefs, which are different for every person.

Thus, it is difficult to define a fixed method that is followed in every Hakomi therapy session.

We have already mentioned the Hakomi Institute founded by Ron Kurtz. This institute mentions certain important steps. 

Every certified Hakomi practitioner must follow these steps during a Hakomi therapy session.

We will now describe these steps in detail.

1. Establishing a relationship with the client

One of the unique things about Hakomi therapy is the bond between the client and therapist.

Hakomi therapists work towards developing an effective working relationship with the client. This relationship provides a sense of safety and mutual engagement.

The therapist should ensure that the therapeutic environment fosters participation and also respect. 

As a result, the clients would feel confident. They feel encouraged to share the intricate details of their private lives.

2. Creating safety in the relationship

An environment of safety is necessary for any relationship. The relationship between a client and a Hakomi therapist is no different.

The therapist must evoke a sense of safety within the client. It is the therapist’s responsibility to convince the client that they will not be judged. This allows the client to be more comfortable

3. Eliciting mindfulness

In the English language, mindfulness means being completely aware of one’s surrounding environment as well as one’s own thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations at a particular moment.

Hakomi mindfulness is nothing but a distinct state of consciousness.

In a Hakomi therapy session, the therapist stimulates mindfulness in a client. They may take the help of meditation techniques to achieve this.

In the state of mindfulness, the client becomes aware of his or her own internal thoughts.

This provides a scope for self-discovery and self-healing by the client.

4. Creating experiments to evoke core material

Many Hakomi therapists believe that studying the core materials of a client’s beliefs is the most important step in Hakomi therapy.

The client may exhibit or talk about certain experiences. These experiences help the therapist understand what these core beliefs are.

Sometimes, these experiences may happen naturally. Otherwise, the therapist has to artificially evoke them.

The therapist achieves this by creating certain experiments. The clients need to take part in these experiments.

For example, the therapist may ask the client to stand in a particular way.

Or they may ask the client some questions and notice how they react. This includes noticing their gestures, minor body movements, changes in breathing patterns, eye movements, etc.

Through these experiments, therapists aim to find a relation between an experience and what sort of belief caused it.

5. Revelation of the core material

The core materials include various memories, beliefs, and deep emotions that every person possesses.

This material modifies the styles, habits, perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of every person. This is what makes every person unique.

A person’s sense of safety, belongingness, freedom, spirituality, and sexuality depend on their core material.

Every person’s core material can be either of two types. They can be expansive, proactive, and creative.

Alternatively, they may be of the type habituated, reactive, and fear-based.

6. Engaging in state-specific processing

Many schools of thought view the human consciousness as a continuously flowing river.

According to this concept, the different states of consciousness are like different currents. These currents together contribute to creating the flow.

Hakomi therapists aim to recognize these different emotional currents and stabilize them.

To do so, Hakomi practitioners must use specific methods for different specific states.

These states are

A. “Bound-up” energy

This term refers to the strongest emotions that are hidden deep inside the consciousness of every person.

Through a Hakomi therapy session, the therapist aims to help the client release these emotions gently and carefully.

The client thus discovers his or her inner wisdom and strength.

B. State-specific memories

A Hakomi therapy session is not only limited to cognitive memories.

Hakomi practitioners encourage the client to think about their present and past experiences.

These past experiences may even be dating back to the childhood days of an adult client.

While recalling these experiences, it may happen that the client feels the presence of both their present and past selves. 

The ‘present self’ of the person remains as an observer, watching the experiences of the ‘past self’ from the point of view of a third person.

The therapist must make the client feel comfortable and safe while the client shares these past memories.

C. Traumatic states of consciousness:

Certain particular experiences of trauma make up this state of consciousness. The client might have suffered from these traumatic experiences in the past.

During a Hakomi therapy session, the Hakomi therapist guides the client so that they can modulate their arousal level.

This happens as the client recalls their traumatic experiences.

7. Transforming the limitations of beliefs:

Many people believe that Hakomi therapy sessions allow the client to express their thoughts in a deep and more open environment.

This, in turn, allows the client’s beliefs to evolve.

The therapist and the client must work together. They must establish alternative ways of seeing and understanding things. 

These are new ways that the client had not realized before on his own unless pointed out by the therapist.

Generally, the therapist achieves this by providing the client with a new experience in response to a familiar situation.

For example, suppose a client shares a traumatic experience. Then the therapist would comfort and support him or her.

This is a new experience for the client that allows his or her own beliefs to expand.

8. Integration of new beliefs and behaviors

In this step, the therapist teaches the client how to apply the new and evolved beliefs to present experiences in the client’s life.

The therapist may give advice to the client. The client learns how to organize their new thoughts.

They also learn how to integrate their new habits into their daily tasks and activities.

9. Completion of the session

This is the final step of a Hakomi session.

By this time, the client and the therapist have worked together to establish a bond. The client has shared their traumatic experiences.

In this final step, the therapist reviews the learning of the entire session. The therapist must make sure that the client is ready to apply this learning in their everyday life.

Techniques used in Hakomi therapy

The four major techniques used by certified Hakomi therapists worldwide are Contact, Accessing, Processing, and Integration.

The Hakomi Institute mentions four techniques. Every Hakomi-trained practitioner should follow these techniques while interacting with clients.

We will now discuss these techniques in brief.

1. Contact

This refers to the technique of establishing a healthy relationship between the client and the therapist. 

This creates a safe environment for the client. Thus, the patient is more willing to take part in the Hakomi therapy session.

You can say this technique focuses on building a close rapport with the client. This enables building up trust between the therapist and the client.

2. Accessing

The term ‘accessing’ denotes the process of accessing the unconsciously hidden core beliefs of the client. 

The therapist accesses these core beliefs by using the mindfulness technique. This basically means that the therapist helps the client become mindful of his or her deep, internal feelings.

Being in touch with the core materials is involved in this process. 

The therapist makes the client feel relaxed and think about any issues that may be disturbing them now, and then relate them to anything that might have happened in the past.

Hakomi therapy focuses on understanding the limiting beliefs.

The client is able to access the unaccepted parts of the ‘self’ that was denied, ignored, or never tapped upon in the present state.

Having to know the memories and emotions clearly, the patient becomes ready to start a new change in life.

They are prepared to let go of negative feelings and walk along the path of emotional healing.

3. Processing

This refers to the technique by which a Hakomi therapist analyzes a client’s experiences. 

As mentioned before in the previous section, these experiences may be naturally occurring. Or, the therapist may artificially elicit them by creating experiments.

In this technique, the patients develop self-reflection of their innermost core that is laden with negative thoughts, unpleasant feelings, and self-defeating ideas.

The therapist asks the client to pay attention to their innermost feelings and whether they are having any bodily responses at the same time.

The Hakomi therapy aims to develop awareness through compassionate and touching assistance from the therapist. 

In this therapy, the client explores, analyzes, and challenges their negative thoughts and beliefs. So, ultimately changes them with positive ones.

4. Integration 

This is the method of combining the client’s existing core beliefs with the therapist’s suggestions. It also includes integrating advice from the therapist. 

As a result of this, the client’s existing core beliefs evolve beyond limitations. The therapist thus offers the client practical advice.

The client learns how to use these modified core beliefs in everyday life.

The importance of touch in Hakomi therapy

The trained Hakomi therapist uses physical touch as a sign of comfort and acceptance to the client.

Touch is used for therapeutic communication between the therapist and the client.

Hakomi’s principles rely on the fact that the human touch can do wonders. A soft touch is a sign of affection, regard, and respect. 

The touch helps the clients explore their negative thoughts in a safe space of unconditional regard. There is no judgment and evaluation of the client’s thoughts and limiting beliefs.

Thus, the client can face their negative emotions without getting overwhelmed. During the therapy session, the client may unleash several painful experiences. 

When a gentle consensual touch is offered, the client feels heard and accepted as they are. They are better equipped to stay with their negative experiences.

At times, consensual touch is used to control the patient’s defensive nature.

While describing a particular past experience, the patient may feel uncomfortable, and a supportive gesture from the therapist can help them in a big way.

Touch can be used only with the consent of the client. The technique allows clients to delve deeper into their internal experiences and heal completely.

Benefits of Hakomi therapy

Researchers have not conducted many studies into the long-term benefits of Hakomi therapy. 

But there are some short-term benefits of this form of therapy. These are mentioned below:

  • Increased body awareness – This form of therapy often helps the client gain an increased awareness of their own body, experiencing the various body sensations. 

The trauma survivors, who might have tension in certain areas of their body, can benefit from this technique. 

  • Improved therapeutic awareness –People receiving this therapy become more mindful. This is another benefit of Hakomi therapy. This means to be in the present moment. This fosters awareness among the patients during the therapy sessions. 
  • Increased comfort around others – As we have already mentioned before, this form of therapy uses touch. This helps to establish a relationship with the client. According to many practitioners, this is a type of “hands-on” approach. This helps the clients to feel comfortable during the therapy session.

 Weaknesses of the Hakomi method

  • Enough research on the effectiveness of the Hakomi method is non-existent. This is the reason why many people do not trust this method.
  • During a Hakomi therapy session, in some cases, a ‘contra-indication’ may be formed. This basically means that the discovery of a client’s certain unconscious core beliefs may actually reaffirm the misperceptions that the client had. This may further worsen the client’s mental health.
  • In a Hakomi therapy session, the client has to talk about his or her past experiences. But the client may not always feel comfortable. This happens when the therapist has not been able to create a supportive environment. This is especially true in cases where the client has faced a traumatic experience.
  • Since Hakomi therapy involves somatic experiences, the therapist actively touches the client. But this can be done only if the client gives consent. Sometimes, this may lead to ethical issues.

Uses of Hakomi therapy

This therapy can be used in the following ways:

  • Couples and relationship therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Understanding the Adolescent mind
  • Multicultural understanding of a person’s beliefs
  • Spiritual uses to understand ‘self’
  • Treating Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Treatment of Anxiety disorders
  • Parenting and childcare

Hakomi vs. somatic experiences – key contrasts

Somatic experiencing (SE) is also a body-centered form of psychotherapy. Thus, this is much like the Hakomi method.

Like Hakomi therapy, somatic experiencing also focuses on trauma experiences.

But there are some key differences between the two. We will discuss them in the following table:

Hakomi TherapySomatic Experiences or Experiencing (SE)
This is a form of mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy.SE is a completely body-centered form of psychotherapy.
American psychologist Ron Kurtz proposed this theory in the 1970s.Trauma therapist Peter A. Levine proposed the concept of somatic experiencing.
Hakomi therapists deal with a client’s presently perceived experiences as well as past experiences.This focuses on a client’s perceived body experiences.
This helps clients to focus on their unconscious core beliefs by using the principle of mindfulness.This helps clients to resolve traumatic activation in the nervous system.
This mainly helps clients recover from trauma.This helps clients relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Hakomi vs. Somatic experiencing

Hakomi character types

Do you remember when we said that Hakomi therapy views the human consciousness as a flowing river? 

All rivers around the world are not the same even though they all carry water. Similarly, all clients do not have the same stream of consciousness.

Ron Kurtz identified eight distinct character patterns in individuals who receive Hakomi therapy. We will describe them below:

1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: 

The client minimizes his or her self-expression. They reduce contact with others and become immersed in thought or fantasies. 

2. Dependent/Endearing

The individual seeks support by exhibiting child-like behavior.

3. Self-Reliant/Independent

An individual independently relies on themselves and seeks challenges.

4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous

The Individuals hide their weaknesses, insecurity, and fear. They try to appear tough and act important.

5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative 

The individual hides their true intentions. They charm others with their likable qualities. The individuals also manipulate others to get what they want.

6. Burdened/Enduring type

The individual remains strong and patient. This happens even if they carry a heavy emotional load.

7. Expressive/Clinging: 

The client exaggerates his /her feelings to gain attention and avoid abandonment.

8. Industrious/Overfocused:

As the name suggests, in this case, the subject is overactive. They are excessively hard-working beyond the normal level.

How to start the journey of Hakomi therapy?

Hakomi therapy is a mindfulness practice that is focused to transform the ‘self’ from the shackles of suffering and agony toward personal growth and self-realization.

The term ‘Hakomi’ comes from a Hopi Indian concept that means “Who Am I?” It is a method for positive human change. 

When we say ‘change’, we mean to get rid of our negative thoughts, feelings, and actions that are no longer required in our daily life.

Hakomi’s principles help to access unconscious habits that cause human unhappiness. Bringing these habits into the conscious realm helps to modify, change, and heal them completely.

To start with the process, you need to do the following:

  • To find a certified Hakomi therapist.
  • Developing a trustworthy and compassionate relationship with the therapist.
  • Accessing the core materials in a safe space of unconditional trust and regard.
  • To practice ways to heal the core materials.
  • Purposeful living.
  • Experiencing a fulfilling life.

Effectiveness of Hakomi therapy

The goal of Hakomi therapy is to develop self-awareness by integrating body-mind-spirit. 

The therapist acts as support who can provide a safe space to become mindful of the unconscious thoughts and limiting beliefs.

The client is helped to release the thoughts and feelings that are painful and heavy on the heart. The body and mind no longer remain a prisoner of pain and suffering. 

The defenses that were created unconsciously to safeguard the ego from pain and trauma are broken.

In this way, a new awareness is born that is free of anxiety and insecurity. Hakomi is effectively used in treating trauma patients. It can also be used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and depression.

Not much research is done to evaluate the efficacy of Hakomi therapy. One study was conducted in 2013 with moderately depressive patients

The findings have shown that Hakomi therapy was useful in reducing their sad and lonely symptoms.

There was an improvement in mood, reduced guilt feelings, lesser anxiety, and better coping with the illness.

Hakomi brings the following effect in individuals who undergo the therapy:

  • Long-lasting change in self-perception and self-awareness
  • Better emotional regulation
  • Releasing negative thoughts and feelings as freely as possible
  • Overcoming the limiting beliefs
  • Healing the trauma that lies within
  • Confronts fears and insecurities boldly
  • Self-discovery of core materials leads to better control over one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.
  • Ability to make positive changes in life.
  • The client no longer lives the life of a victim but feels empowered and confident in who they are.

Criticism of Hakomi therapy

Critics of Hakomi therapy mainly focus on the fact that there is a lack of strong evidence of the benefits of Hakomi therapy. 

In some instances of Hakomi therapy, the therapist’s suggestions may form contraindications. 

For example, in the case of individuals who are facing trauma, Hakomi therapy may damage their original coping mechanisms.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

By now, you would have formed a basic idea of what Hakomi therapy is and how it works.

Hakomi therapists can help individuals deal with dysfunctional family dynamics, spiritual problems, etc.

But individuals should remember that there is very little scientific evidence in favor of the effectiveness of Hakomi therapy. 

Moreover, before seeking therapy, individuals should make sure that the person offering the therapy is a properly certified Hakomi practitioner.

Hakomi therapy gives mastery over ‘self’. It is a way to understand oneself in a complete ‘whole’, where mind, body, and spirit are fine-tuned with each other.

The therapy paves the path for personal growth and transformation like never before. It’s a brand new experience that the client may have never accessed before.

Are you interested to know more about ‘Logotherapy’ then click here?

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