Radix Institute

Radix and Understanding Trauma
A integrated bodywork approach to working with trauma.

Radix® and Understanding Trauma

– Ellen Costantino, CRT

Basic radix method was developed by Reich and refined by Kelley for classically rigid structures (anger blockers). The techniques used presume that charge is present in the body and is tightly held or bound in the muscles. These unnatural rigidities are called armor. Techniques were developed to “break through” the muscle armor so that charge (feeling) could flow freely in the body again. The basic Radix intensive has 3 parts and is designed to first build large energy charge levels in the body, then stress the body, so the body will finally discharge its “held/blocked” energy. The methods are very effective with rigid anger blockers, moderately effective with limiting or pain blocking structures, but have had little success with fear structures. 

Radix techniques commonly used for opening the seven segments via intensives include the following; The exercises are used to build charge in a blocked area or to apply enough stress to elicit a discharge once charge is built.

Segment One – Ocular (Top of head down to bottom of eyes) Sustained, aware eye contact—flashlight work to mobilize and test eye motion—squeeze eyes tight on inhale pulling energy inside, then open eyes wide on exhale and push energy out

Segment Two – Oral  (Mouth, chin, nose, throat, ears, and jaw) Working directly with floor of mouth and tongue with manual massage– towel biting—sucking—pressing into jaw masseter muscles—wrinkling and flexing nose in pulsation

Segment Three – Cervical (neck to top of chest) Make sounds on exhale—hold jaw down during breathing—pressure on sternocleidomastoids—tongue in and out with breathing—lengthen back of neck—gag reflex

Segment Four – Thoracic (upper chest and back down to diaphragm plus arms) Direct muscle work—lowen stool—varied breathing techniques

Segment Five – Diaphragmatic (diaphragm) Belly breathing—chest, belly and all out breathing—gag reflex—direct manipulation by pressure

Segment Six – Abdominal  (diaphragm to pelvis front and back) Lengthen muscles of back via bows and curls—belly breathing—direct massage of muscles

Segment Seven – Pelvic  (genitals, buttocks, thighs and legs) belly breathing– pelvic pounding– leg rotations– deep thigh massage– wall sits—dead bug

Fear Structure
Radix training does not teach techniques for trauma per se. PTSD’s would be seen as fear structures, i.e. as oral character types. Basic methods would be used, stressing working slowly to loosen blocks to the instroke so the person could build charge at the core and eventually bring energy to the periphery.  Special attention would be paid to the ocular segment in opening and expanding vision of the myopic eye in order to build contact with the external environment and others, since fear structures tend to be withdrawn and Self centered.  The overall attempt is to get the withdrawn structure opened and grounded, able to move energy from the outside to the inside, as well as the inside to the outside! Still, most fear structures did not respond to Radix intensives as well as pain and anger types.

Renan modernized Radix techniques for fear structures, saying that fear structures do not have muscular armor and lack boundary, which is why they do not build and process charge effectively in the Radix intensive.  She sees them as unaware of body sensations and overwhelmed by internal feelings.  With no armor and weak or absent boundary for containment, they can not tolerate and process the stress of the usual intensive format. Renan traces this situation, via developmental psychology, back to the early individuation/separation stage.  In the fear structure charge does not pulsate from center to periphery and back again safely and consistently.  Constancy is not certain, so boundaries do not develop properly. The energy tends to build only slightly, then collapse into the center or rush frantically to the periphery, as there is no boundary to contain it. So we have 2 types of fear structures she says; both are unbounded, but one is low energy and tends to collapse or be withdrawn, having failed individuation. The other type is high energy and peripheral, having accomplished individuation but having failed at rapproachmont.

Renan says the goal with both types of fear structure is to develop body capacity to experience the Self as separate and safe. We must teach them how to detect, bind, and channel charge in order to build effective boundary.  She uses a lot of verbal work and only light body work to build gentle charge, stressing integration of the verbal awareness with body awareness as head defenses release to body sensations.  As adjuncts to session work, she suggests regular physical exercises, regularity in daily schedules, and 12 step programs if there are addictive behaviors. She stresses that the teacher must be fully present, build trust levels, be available, honest, create real relationship without dependence, keep the child parent states very clear when working, and be patient and supportive in every interaction.

This method of working with fear structures has been much more productive and is currently being employed in the Radix training.  However, in my opinion, Radix still does not make a strong enough distinction between fear and trauma.  That distinction is made clear by Peter Levine after 25 years of studying animal and human response to threat. The method he has devised for treating trauma is called Trauma Renegotiation, and its purpose is to help the body complete the suspended nervous system discharge created at the threatening event. 

He distinguishes between shock trauma as being primarily physical and developmental trauma as being primarily psychological, but says that body responses and healing methods are the same for both! 

Radix Approach
The treatment task is to follow body sensations slowly and completely rather than trying to elicit strong emotion or big discharges, which can overwhelm the clients and actually re-traumatize them. 


His theory follows. When in danger, the body has three choices; fight, flee or freeze.  One of these three WILL happen in any dangerous situation and the response is instinctive. We have no control over which one it will be.  The reptilian portion of our brain makes that decision before the cortex is ever accessed.
As the body chooses, energy is set in motion in the nervous system. If fight or flee occur, the energy is used up immediately in those efforts.  But, if freeze occurs, the mobilized energy has no where to go.  It gets very big and the animal (person) dissociates from his body, as it remains paralyzed and motionless.  If the danger passes and safety is restored, the body will unfreeze, wake up and begin to treble, twitch or shake to discharge the held energy and there will be no trauma.  But, if the person starts to wake up and the environment is not safe for discharge, the nervous system will bind the excess energy. Later it will “bleed” off as emotional distress, acting out, acting in, disease symptoms, and psychological disorders.  Trauma only occurs after a threatening event if the organism can not discharged its mobilized energies!  Example; a child is about to be hit by a car.  His instinctive brain sees there is no way to win a fight, he can not flee fast enough, and he will be hurt less if hit limp, so he freezes, is hit, and falls. If he is allowed to wake up slowly, not move about, and people around him are calm and reassuring, he will soon begin to cry, shake, tremble etc to discharge the frozen energy. He will likely not be traumatized by the event.  But if people rush in wildly, expressing fear, and handling him to “evaluate” his condition, his body will not feel safe enough to complete its needed discharge. While he will survive, he will likely also be traumatized by the event.  Then the stored energy will start creeping out as nightmares, images of terror, body aches and symptoms or aggression to others.


The source of the trauma is not relevant, only the facilitation process is. The treatment key is to decouple the immobility response from the subsequent fear.  He starts with physiology not psychology in a way, which assures that the adaptive resources within the victim increase equally with arousal of the fear. He does this using images (real or imagined) accompanying the body’s “felt sense” of the event.  He uses images of successfully fighting or fleeing in the original event to titrate the fear as it rises physiologically.  This is working right on the affective edge of fear, but never pushing into it. He helps the client learn the difference between excitement and anxiety; to expand and deepen the felt senses, and to respond to excitement with consciously channeled discharge of energy.  Conscious awareness of the body sensations provides gentle energetic discharge, a slow motion release of frozen energy, which brings physical satisfaction and completion. (Since trauma victims have associated high arousal states with intense fear, until they have processed their bound energies, many of them can not tolerate ANY source of intense arousal, such as normal sexual arousal or even joyous excitement.  Such high energy events simply push their anxiety levels higher because they can not discharge effectively back to ground state as they used to.)


Pioneers of Neuroscience and Somatic Therapy

– Bessel van der Kolk, MD
The human response to psychological trauma

When people are faced with life-threatening or other traumatic experiences, they primarily focus on survival and self-protection.  They experience a mixture of numbness, withdrawal, confusion, shock, and speechless terror. Some victims try to cope by taking action, while others dissociate. Neither response absolutely prevents the subsequent development of PTSD, though problem-focused coping reduces the chance of developing PTSD, while dissociation during a traumatic event is an important predictor for the development of subsequent PTSD.  The longer the traumatic experience lasts, the more likely the victim is to react with dissociation.

When the traumatic event is the result of an attack by a family member on whom victims also depend for economic and other forms of security, as occurs in victims of intrafamilial abuse, victims are prone to respond to assaults with increased dependence and with a paralysis in their decisionmaking processes. Thus, some aspects of how people respond to trauma are quite predictable, but individual, situational, and social factors play a major role in the shaping the symptomatology.

Rape victims, as well as children and women abused by male partners, often develop long-term reactions that include fear, anxiety, fatigue, sleep and eating disturbances, intense startle reactions, and physical complaints.

They often continue to dissociate in the face of threat, suffer from profound feelings of helplessness and have difficulty planning effective action. This makes them vulnerable to develop “emotion-focused coping,” a coping style in which the goal is to alter one’s emotional state, rather than the circumstances that give rise to those emotional states. This emotion-focused coping accounts for the fact that people who develop PTSD are vulnerable to engage in alcohol and substance abuse. Between a quarter and half of all patients who seek substance abuse treatment suffer from a comorbid PTSD diagnosis. The relationship between substance abuse and PTSD is reciprocal: drug abuse leads to assault, and, reciprocally, assault leads to substance use.

Diagnostic issues

In 1980, the diagnosis of PTSD was constructed for inclusion in the Diagnostic and. Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd edition (DSM-IIT) in order to capture the psychopathology associated with traumatization in adults. Over the years, numerous studies have demonstrated that the diagnostic construct of PTSD is clinically relevant to individuals who have suffered single incident traumas such as rape, physical assaults, torture, and motor vehicle accidents. However, it has also become clear that in clinical settings most treatment-seeking patients have been exposed to a range of different traumatic events over their life span, and suffer from a variety of psychological problems, only some of which are covered in the definition of PTSD. These include affect dysregulation, aggression against self and others, amnesia and dissociation, somatization, depression, distrust, shame, and self-hatred. These other problems can either be conceptualized as comorbid conditions, or as part of a spectrum of trauma-related problems, that occur depending on the age at which the trauma occurred, the relationship to the agent responsible for the trauma, social support received, and the duration of the traumatic experience(s).

The diagnosis of PTSD is characterized by three major elements:

  • The repeated reliving of memories of the traumatic experience. These tend to involve intense sensory and visual memories of the event, which are often accompanied by extreme physiological and psychological distress, and sometimes by a feeling of emotional numbing, during which there usually is no physiological arousal. These intrusive memories may occur spontaneously or can be triggered by a range of real and symbolic stimuli.

  • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma, as well as of emotional numbing, detachment, and emotional blunting, often coexist with intrusive recollections. This is associated with an inability to experience joy and pleasure, and with a general withdrawal from engagement with life. Over time, these features may become the dominant symptoms of PTSD.

  • A pattern of increased arousal is the third element of PTSD. This is expressed by hypervigilance, irritability, memory and concentration problems, sleep disturbances, and an exaggerated startle response. In the more chronic forms of the disorder, this pattern of hyperarousal and the avoidance may be the dominant clinical features. Hyperarousal causes traumatized people to become easily distressed by unexpected stimuli. Their tendency to be triggered into reliving traumatic memories illustrates how their perceptions become excessively focused on the involuntary seeking out of the similarities between the present and their traumatic past. As a consequence, many neutral experiences become reinterpreted as being associated with the traumatic past.

The psychobiology of trauma

During the past two decades, important advances have been made in the understanding of the nature and treatment of PTSD. Probably the most important progress has been in the areas of the neurobiological underpinnings and treatment. Modern research has come to elucidate the degree to which PTSD is, indeed, a “physioneurosis,” a mental disorder based on the persistence of biological emergency responses.

In order to understand how trauma affects psychobio logical activity it is useful to briefly revisit some basic tenets of neurobiology. Paul McLean defined the brain as a detecting, amplifying, and analyzing device for maintaining us in our internal and external environment. Jhesc functions range from the visceral regulation of oxygen intake and temperature balance to the categorization of incoming information necessary for making complex, long-term decisions affecting both individual and social systems. In the course of evolution, the human brain has developed three interdependent “subanalyz ers,” each with different anatomical and neurochemical substrates: (i) the brainstem and hypothalamus, which are primarily associated with the regulation of internal homeostasis; (ii) the limbic system, which is in charge of maintaining the balance between the internal world and external reality; and (iii) the neocortex, which is responsible for analyzing and interacting with the external world.

It is generally thought that the circuitry of the brainstem and hypothalamus is mostly innate and stable, that the limbic system contains both innate circuitry and circuitry modifiable by experience, and that the structure of the neocortex is most affected by environmental input. If that is true, trauma would be expected to leave its most profound changes on neocortical functions, and least affect basic regulatory functions. However, while this may be true of the ordinary stress response, trauma, stress that overwhelms the organism, seems to affect people over a wide range of biological functioning, involving a large variety of brain structures and neurotransmitter systems.

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