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When Talk Isn’t Enough: Radical Aliveness and the Healing Power of Movement and Emotion

by Dr. Krista Malott


As a licensed professional counselor and educator who is fascinated by the many and different ways that we humans can heal and grow, I have explored an endless number of helping interventions in and outside of my field. What I know, from both the research and experience, is that we each heal uniquely, according to our own values and preferences, and that personal change begins as early as the moment we decide to reach out for help. What I also know is that counseling as an intervention has shown to be powerful and helpful due to a few common healing elements—including an affirming counselor-client relationship, and the exploration of some of our most personal challenges, thoughts, and feelings within that relationship.

However, there can be limits to the counseling experience, which so often uses talk as the main vehicle for growth. While talk can bring insight and even elicit powerful emotions, for cerebral (a.k.a., nerdy) people such as myself, it can also keep us in our heads, intellectualizing, rather than exploring those deeper body, or somatic, emotions that are at the roots of many of our personal challenges. Such emotions link to early and profound experiences and teachings, creating harmful beliefs and behavioral patterns that can get in the way of authenticity, joy, and success. In essence, talk may help us realize our personal issues without fully effecting change in our hearts and bodies. Personally, as I have engaged in my own growth work over the years (as all ethical helpers should), I recognized that, while I had discovered many meaningful aspects of the self through talk therapy, I hadn’t fully embodied change to the extent that I had hoped. One can know things without actually feeling and doing differently.

Then I met Yi-Li and her husband Jonathan, local practitioners of the healing intervention, Radical Aliveness. Yi-Li described to me a form of healing or body psychotherapy, which sounded familiar to, and yet unique from, counseling. This intervention has familiar roots in psychological theories for understanding human behavior, mainly drawing on the tenet that we tend to learn and then repeat beliefs and behaviors across our lives. However, unique from basic counseling, this intervention seeks to move the client beyond talk. Rather, radical aliveness uses the expression and processing of emotions as a vehicle to get clients unstuck, to allow them to engage in more authentic, loving, and functional behaviors.

Warmly shy and humble in her manner, Yi-Li talked with me about her four years of professional training in the intervention, including the profound personal work she was required to completed through that program. If you are looking for changes in your life, she said, or if you feel stuck or unfulfilled in any kind of way (career-wise or with relationships), the Radical Aliveness process brings quick and powerful changes. In speaking of her own growth through the intervention, she explained, “Radical aliveness saved my life, because it gave me the courage to leave a career that was no longer fulfilling to me. It helped me to embrace my own vulnerability, to be with a life partner—something I’d longed for.”

Intrigued, I invited Yi-Li into my classroom of master-level counselors, to engage them in some (lighter) version of her work. In a brief, 30-minute time span, she facilitated a deeply meaningful exchange across students that had several in tears. Impressed, I visited her private practice, to learn more from her and her husband regarding Radical Aliveness. Their descriptions of the spontaneous and creative healing process fascinating me, and I was compelled to attend a five day workshop given by the intervention’s founder, Ann Bradney, in Rhinebeck, NY.

While Radical Aliveness can be individual in its methods, this five-day workshop used a group format that included 16 other clients. Three facilitators creatively drew on movement, sound, personal sharing, and discussion (including large doses of warmth and humor), to identify and work on on some of our deepest emotions and related experiences. Feelings of grief, fear, joy, hope, and rage were expressed through movement, sound, and connection with others—whatever seemed relevant for our particular group in that moment. Ann artfully interwove and made sense of our common human experiences and their associated emotions, all with a warmth and honesty that startled. Nothing was taboo—all parts of ourselves were embraced.

It was, as the intervention’s name suggests, a radically transformative experience, an invitation to show up as more real and authentic in my everyday life. This is something I’ve been practicing more of, both personally and professionally, since that day. Radical aliveness brought me closer to my emotions, in that healing space, closer than any intervention I had before experienced, leaving me the better for it.

For those hoping to find out more about this helping technique, there are myriad options. These include individual or group work with local practitioners Yi-Li Godfrey or Jonathan Godfrey (see: www.radicalalivenessphila.com), and, in various locations across the nation, one-day to five-day workshops (http://radicalaliveness.org/). Sessions are tailored to meet each persons’ unique goals, experiences, and identities, to bring about healing and growth that allows one to live more authentically, and lovingly, in the world.

Dr. Krista Malott is a licensed professional counselor and university professor who trains mental health and school counselors. Her research, teaching, and publications focus on social-justice oriented, culturally-effective healing practices. She is a local parent of two young girls in the mainline area of Philadelphia.


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