Therapeutic Goals and Concepts of Radix Work
Seminar #1 of the Radix Training Program by Narelle McKenzie, Director of Training
When I entered the Radix training program in 1981, there was no material available that helped me integrate my learning of this approach with my training and experience as a psychologist. Since completing my training, I have given considerable thought as to how the two fit. This is a summary of a paper I presented at the Radix Conference in Florida in May 1999,where I discussed the foundations and boundaries of Radix work from a general therapeutic perspective.
In working with clients from a Radix framework, there are four major or primary goals: consciousness, aliveness, choice, and body-mind integration. None of these goals are unique to Radix. Rather, it is the combination and emphasis we give to them and the way we go about achieving them that gives our work its unique flavor.
As a Radix practitioner, if you achieve nothing else in your work with clients, you want them to leave each session more present or connected with themselves, and/or more present with their world, than when they arrived. It doesn’t matter if nothing substantial has changed as long as they have attained some increased awareness of what keeps them stuck. Consciousness is more than intellectual awareness. It is a whole body knowing. It comes as a result of accurate tracking of a client’s process by both the client and the practitioner, and requires both to be very present in the here and now. It is possible in all kinds of therapy to work with clients so that they develop more awareness of what they do intellectually. In Radix work, we want them to experience what they do. If the process of doing this is overwhelming and the client dissociates from the experience, the practitioner, while helping to decrease the overwhelm, helps the client notice how this is occurring and helps him/her attend to this process at an experiential level. This is what I call consciousness.
Working in this way is very demanding. It requires you, the Radix practitioner, to be present at all times. It also requires you to develop an attitude of acceptance for whatever is happening in the session and a deep sense of curiosity regarding the client’s process. It is not about being an expert. Perhaps the hardest task is helping the client cultivate this acceptance and curiosity about their own process. Sometimes this means that several sessions will focus on working with the judgments that interfere with their acceptance of some emotion, thought or behavior.
Our training and the tools we use help us attend to consciousness at a very high level of skill, and to be aware if this process is not happening. To achieve this goal in session with a client requires knowing your own process very well and attending to the fine nuances of a client’s process and experiences. Don’t be disheartened if it takes time to master.
In Radix work, we not only want someone to become more conscious in the present but we want them to do this with an experience of aliveness. We want them to experience the charge of the radix pulsing through their bodies and the pleasantness of the discharge, whether they are engaged in quiet meditation or noisy interaction. Being alive means being fully engaged in what you are doing. You can only be engaged in your experience, whatever it is, when the radix is flowing. That is why as a Radix trainee you not only learn how to bring yourself and your client consciously into the present but you are also trained to work with pulsation in order to facilitate a flow of the Radix throughout the body.
Most people come to therapy because something is not working in their life and they experience themselves as having no choice or power to change it. Assisting clients to understand their process at an experiential level gives them this choice. As a Radix practitioner, if I have a client who is dissociating I am not particularly concerned about the fact that they dissociate in the session (although it may be of concern outside of sessions). I am concerned if they have no conscious awareness of what they are doing or of how they achieve it. I am also concerned if there is no aliveness in the process. This implies that they have no choice about when and how they dissociate. Dissociation is only a problem when it is unconscious and stagnant. Similarly, if a client is afraid of crying too much (‘breaking down’), I may help them become very aware of what they do to stop themselves from crying. When they are familiar with this process they have a choice about whether to cry or not.
A great deal of emphasis in the Radix training program is on teaching you to observe and work with bodily processes. However, a significant goal of the work is to integrate the body and mind or rather thinking, feeling and behavior. The specific principles of how this is achieved for each client will be taught over the course of the training program. With some clients this is achieved by developing and building the client’s experience of their body as a container. At another time or with another client, this will be achieved by facilitating emotional expression or experience. At all times, we want there to be a congruence, a working partnership, between the body and the mind. They are different expressions of the same radix substratum.
What about emotional experience and expression? You will notice, I hope, that nowhere in this description of the goals of Radix is there mention of discharge of emotions or emotional release or emotional work as a primary goal of our work. Radix training teaches you to work with emotional experience and expression better than any other therapy that I have encountered. However, emotional expression and release is not a primary goal of the work.
For clients to become more conscious of what they do, think and feel, and for them to truly engage with life with a sense of choice and body-mind integration, most need to focus, at some stage, on what they think and do with their emotions. In our society, the importance of emotions for fulfilled and functional living is still so poorly understood. This is why in order to achieve the above goals, we as Radix teachers often find ourselves working with clients on emotional issues and helping them obtain this knowing. So a large part of Radix training focuses on how to work effectively with emotions. However this is to achieve the larger goals of consciousness, aliveness, choice and integration.
How do we as Radix practitioners achieve these goals? Primarily by working with the basic concepts underlying all Radix work. These are simple concepts but they have a profound depth to them. Over the course of the training program, you will be taught about these concepts inconsiderable detail. Initially in your training course you will learn and practice with your group a variety of techniques and activities which reflect the concepts. As you become a really effective Radix practitioner, you will generate your own activities based on your understanding and application of these concepts.
This is one of the most central concepts in Radix work and the concept that makes our work so powerful. Without contact you can’t have a shift in consciousness. So at the beginning of every session, regardless of what you have decided to do or what the lesson plan requires, a good habit to develop is to ask yourself the following questions:
Is this client here? Are they present?
Do they have good contact with me?
If not, what interferes with this?
If yes, what would change this?
Do they have good contact with themselves?
If not, what is interfering with this happening?
If yes, what might change this?
Most problems presented in therapy or in personal growth work are about contact. Clients, in one way or another are expressing a desire to have better contact with themselves or with the rest of the world or both. When you start practicing, sometimes with a particular client or in a particular session, you will notice that the client does not have good self-contact or other-contact. If you notice this, then that is where the session should start. The focus of the session becomes assisting the client to become aware of this. If this is achieved, you may move on to helping them notice how they break or interfere with this contact.
At other times, you will notice that the client is reasonably present with himself or herself and with you, so you may move on to doing something more active with them to see if they can maintain this as their level of engagement increases. However, you will be continuously checking the level of presence or contact as you proceed.
How do you know if the client has good self contact or contact with the world? This is where your Radix training is so valuable. In your training you will be systematically taught how to observe aspects of the body that indicate this presence. Examples of presence are being responsive in the eyes, having an easy flowing breath, moving, even gently, with an aliveness and fluidity, and speaking with a connected and modulated voice.
Another central concept in Radix work and one closely related to contact is pulsation. (See seminar #2 for a definition of pulsation). Some people can be present or in contact but only if they keep shut off from their aliveness and energy. They can be with you but only if they have a deadpan response to things. Others can be very alive and interactive with other people but at the cost of having little or no contact with themselves. When you are around someone like this you have a sense that you can’t quite connect with them or that there is a quality of phoniness or acting to their behavior. In contrast, some other individuals can have a very energetic lower body as long as they keep their upper body tense and restrained. And some people keep the charge of their pulsation so low that this prevents them from establishing a sense of contact either with themselves or others. In all of these cases, the pulsation of the life force or radix is blocked. Before you even commence Radix training, you probably have an intuitive feel for this. Watching performers, whether they be dancers, singers or even someone giving a public lecture, you can feel whether the person is comfortable with their pulsation and connected. If they are, there is a sense of engagement and aliveness.
Most of us have learned to live by restricting our pulsation in some way or another. Doing so has had its rewards. Usually when people present for therapy or growth work they are saying that this no longer works so well. It is time for a change. Thinking of and working with people in terms of what they do with their pulsation is a very objective and non-judgmental way to work.
Radix training will teach you how to observe and work with these pulsations or rhythms of the body. Very detailed information will be given to you about the concepts of charging and discharging which are the instroke and outstroke of a pulsation. In learning to work with client’s pulsation you will discover what a profound effect this has on their behavior, emotions and thinking.
Some questions that are effective to ask regarding pulsation are:
Is there a flow and where is it?.
Is it strong or weak?
Can the client maintain contact with himself/herself and change the intensity of this flow?
What happens with this flow when you engage with him or her?
Answers to these questions assist you to make decisions about the interventions you will use in a session: decisions like whether you may need to build a charge, contain a charge, facilitate discharge or maybe build some body boundaries. As your understanding of these concepts develop, you will find that these questions are important to consider whether you are working verbally or working directly with the body. They are simple guidelines for effective therapy in any discipline. Once you become familiar with these concepts, they will also assist you in decisions about when to work directly with the body and when to do more verbal work. For example if you want to build a charge in a client and you notice that they start to do this when they are talking then you may decide to continue talking for a while. On the other hand if you notice that when they talk they maintain a low ineffective and isolating charge, you may decide to intervene with something more active.
Grounding and Centering
Other concepts central to Radix work are grounding and centering. By grounding, we mean being in touch with reality: having a grip on the world, being able to stand on your own two feet, “Earthed.” Centering means having the capacity to go inside and connect with yourself and know who you are. You can see from these descriptions that all of these concepts are interrelated. However at different times, with the same person or with different people, you will focus more on one than the other. All therapies address these issues but from a Radix perspective we are interested in how the body processes and body structure facilitate or inhibit this happening. Relevant questions we might ask are:
Which part of the body is grounded? Head, eyes, arms or legs?
Is this person under- or over-grounded?
Do I have a sense that this client is coming from his/her center and knows what he/she thinks or feels, or are they allover the place and scattered?
What seems to center them?
What uncenters them?
Are the problems with contact related to difficulties with grounding?
Does he/she know what he/she thinks and feels but has inhibitions about expressing this?
Boundaries and Containment
The degree to which we can express ourselves and participate in the world in a fulfilling way is affected by our sense of a ‘boundary ‘between us and the rest of the world, including the people around us. Although there are times when we want to merge with others, for example in intimate sexual encounters, most of the time it is beneficial to our functioning to have a boundary, a sense of where we end and another starts. This can be true emotionally, physically, psychologically or spiritually.
Similarly, sometimes we judge it appropriate to express our feelings. At other times, we need to contain them. When we contain them we acknowledge the experience but choose not to act on or express the feelings. This is a very conscious process, in contrast to repression, which is unconscious.
When people have difficulty with emotional expression or being able to experience themselves or others in a meaningful way, usually this suggests difficulties with boundaries and containment. Some clients have no sense of where they end and another starts. This can be manifested by their being intrusive or not being able to separate out what they feel and experience when others around them have strong experiences. The client who always acts out inappropriately, or lets his/her anger result in violence or abuse, has poor boundaries. While these are behaviors and concepts addressed in most therapy disciplines, in Radix work we are interested in how the body contributes to good boundaries and containment. As a psychologist and psychotherapist, as I listen to and observe a client I might be questioning:
What is my impression of the client’s boundaries?
Is this a social, emotional, physical, intellectual, or spiritual boundary issue?.
Where does it appear that this person has flexibility in life?
In which areas of their life and functioning is there a rigidity?
As a Radix practitioner, I would take this a step further and ask myself:
Where is this manifesting in the body? …or
How is the body maintaining this functioning?
What do we, the client and I need to do in terms of contact, grounding centering, and pulsation to change this?
As I have been indicating, the questions we ask in Radix about clients’ functioning may not differ much from those one would ask in any traditional therapy session. Even some of our concepts are common to other approaches. What differentiates body centered approaches is the observability of these concepts and therefore the ease with which they can, if desired, be worked with. This results in some wonderful tools for assessing the consciousness and aliveness of clients and of helping them develop choice and integration no matter what the presenting problem.
Observation and reflection
One of the things that is taught extremely well in Radix training is observation and reflection. At first, a Radix trainee may pay attention to diagnosis or coming up with a good intervention, and in doing so miss what is really happening in a session. In the training program, however, you will be constantly reminded to come back to what you are observing. The ability to observe these nonverbal and body processes is invaluable for working with a wide variety of clients and in learning the application of any therapeutic approach. It grounds you in the essentials of therapeutic work.
A lot of emphasis in Radix training is also given to reflecting back to the client what you are observing so that he/she too can begin to experience these processes. This is a very empowering tool. It also gives the client the opportunity to develop their own meaning of the behavior rather than be told the meaning by an expert. This also brings a freshness to the work as new interpretations are given space to emerge which stops the work becoming stale and predictable for the therapist.
The most significant tool in Radix work is the ocular work. The training you receive on working with this segment differentiates Radix bodywork from other body work approaches. It is the most central tool as it relates so closely to the goals of consciousness, aliveness, choice and body-mind integration and to the concepts of contact, grounding and pulsation.
You learn how to distinguish different expressions of the eyes and how to observe the eyes as indices of presence and contact and protection. You also learn how the eye pulsation is so central for developing both emotional expression and containment and the fundamental role the eyes play in the process of dissociation. It is amazing how much working with the eyes can begin to heal trauma and abuse problems.
In working with the ocular segment (the eyes, the scalp, the forehead), you learn skills related to developing the ability to imagine and how to integrate this segment with the rest of the body. This results in an integration of the body and mind in thinking, feeling and behavior. Working with the eyes is a very potent tool.
Respiration is very closely linked with a person’s state of being and one’s ability to express oneself. In Radix training, you learn how to observe the different strokes of the breath, the inhale and the exhale and how to develop a flow between them. You learn how to observe the breath in different segments of the body and how to encourage a full body breath pulsation which can substantially reduce the general experience of confusion or ambivalent feeling states.
Radix teachers can distinguish sounds that come from the gut from those made in the throat. We are not blown away by someone making a very loud angry sound. In fact at times when this is happening, we may be more interested to find out if this same person can make a very soft sound too. In your training, you will learn how sound is related to aliveness and consciousness and the relationship of sound to therapeutic problems like depression and anxiety. Many people as adults are afraid of making sounds so your training also teaches you ways of helping people to learn to make sounds.
I worked with a family who had experienced a lot of violence and abuse. The second youngest child was having behavioral problems at school. She didn’t know how to stand up for herself and was desperate to be liked by the other girls. This meant that she was pushed around a lot by the bullies and was also attracted to them. In her sessions, one thing that emerged was how terrified she was of making sounds or hearing loud sounds. So we had a session where she and her younger sister attended. We built cubbies out of cushions and mattresses and rugs and then we climbed up on chairs and leapt into the cubbies yelling as we did so. At first she couldn’t make any noise but by the end of the session she too was shouting with her sister and me. She left the session more grounded and more confident.
Sound of course also means just being able to verbalize your experience. Many people can talk about their experiences as long as they are not experiencing them. When they experience they are so overwhelmed by feeling that they lose the capacity to speak. This leaves them quite defenseless. Radix work assists them to feel and think and verbalize at the same time.
Observing a client’s movement helps you distinguish spastic and robotic movements from those that flow naturally and express life. The Radix training teaches the use of movement to charge or discharge a particular area of the body, to redistribute a charge or to loosen an area of tension. Movement, particularly slow movement, is also used to increase body awareness and consciousness of process.
The Radix training teaches how to touch clients effectively and non invasively: how to use touch to increase awareness, comfort, to soothe, to charge, to encourage, to facilitate discharge, or to build a relationship. In traditional therapy circles there is still a lot of debate about the ethics of touch. However in Radix training, when touching you clients, you learn how to watch the body for physical cues that your touch is appropriate and helpful. Asking a client may not always the best or only indicator of this. Theoretical grounding and observation are essential in determining when and how to touch.
Transference and the Therapeutic Relationship
Sometimes in the therapeutic process some clients will need the therapist to recognize and work with the transferential process, involving positive and negative transference and countertransference. In positive transference the client sees only the really positive aspects of the therapist and idealizes these characteristics. You know this is happening when you feel like you have been put on a pedestal where you can do no wrong. In doing so the client is not really seeing all the aspects of the therapist. Negative transference occurs when the therapist’s behavior is seen to be negative: abandoning, destructive, hostile or critical of the client. In both situations some of what is observed and commented upon may be correct but it is not the whole picture and is colored by the past experiences and expectations of the client. In countertransference exactly the same processes occur, except it is the therapist who gets stuck in a limited view and can’t really “see” the client. Transference occurs to some degree in all relationships, and if worked with well can contribute to the development and resolution of therapeutic issues. Some clients seem to need to work through such processes more than others. Traditionally in psychoanalysis transference is central to the therapeutic process.
Radix does not work with transference the same way that psychoanalysis does, as in psychoanalysis the entire focus of the session is on the transferential process. Nevertheless, the relationship between the Radix practitioner and the client is central to the work in a Radix session. The training program addresses transference and countertransference issues, especially as they relate to the body processes and character structures of the client and the therapist.
When you become skilled in observing the pulsations of your clients and their ability to ground, center, contain, and to establish and use boundaries appropriately, you develop some very effective and more objective tools for assessing and resolving transference issues. Your knowledge of your own processes and character gained from your personal work will sensitize you to when you need to address countertransferential issues. What is significant in relationship issues is seldom the content of the relationship but rather the patterns of engagement and disengagement that occur between you and your client. Radix training teaches you to acutely observe these patterns and to reflect them, and gives you some tools for effectively working with them.
The relationship you as a Radix practitioner are trying to establish with your client is best expressed in this quote by the psychoanalyst, Ehrenberg.
“A meeting at the ‘intimate edge’ is not simply intellectual, in which case either participant would be involved in an exercise of his own cleverness rather than in a more personally profound exchange. Nor is it simply affective, since it is quite possible for either participant to be emotional without ever being touched by the other. Nor is it simply personal, since sharing intimate details about oneself might be no different than a recorded speech in which the words act as barriers not bridges. The essential qualities of the kind of engagement I am describing are reciprocity and expanded awareness through authentic relation. Finding and making explicit the point of optimal closeness and distance in the relationship, a point which is constantly changing from moment to moment, provides the kind of experience in which the participants’ awareness expands via the relationship as they clarify what they evoke and what they respond to in each other. This can only move in the direction of new experiences of mutuality and intimacy, and towards increasing self knowledge and individuality.’ (Ehrenberg, Darlene. The Intimate Edge. Contemporary Psychoanalysis Vol 10 No 1 1974 pp423-437.)
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