Erika Totten of Unchained

Mykalee McGowan

Erika Totten has thing for chains, especially breaking them.  This activist and spiritual life coach has been helping many break the chains that hold them back through her company, Unchained.

Unchained is a program focuses on the emotional emancipation of all people of African descent. Totten provides services like spiritual life coaching, emotional emancipation circles, and community leadership development. In her coaching and healing circles, she utilizes spiritual tools such as altar work and black angel cards.

This idea came about after Totten tried to figure out what her liberation looks like.

“I asked myself , ‘To live unchained, I must…’ and then I complete that sentence. That was the beginning of my journey for myself. I was using different spiritual tools from Christianity but up to a certain point. And then there was a moment of evolution,” she said.

 She decided to leave when the church didn’t have the answers to her spiritual questions.

“They either didn’t have the answers or the answers didn’t sound like liberation to me. It sounded like control and fear. Which completely went against what I was learning for myself that there is no fear and that I shouldn’t operate in fear. I had to make a decision: am I going to be unchained or am I going to let a religion that I inherited put me in a box? It didn’t sound like God to me,” she said.

In 2008, she started hosting healing circles for people who had questions about spirituality as well.

“In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about a business. I was creating space for women who wanted to have those conversations. A place where people can ask questions and say what they wanted to say. To have a liberated space that was lead by a person not concerned about maintaining the status quo,” said Totten.

The healing circles prompted a shift in her consciousness and she delved in deeper into her quest for freedom. What she found were new definitions of truth, God, and identity.

On Truth:

“I changed and focused on truth in using part of that scripture, ‘the truth shall set you free.’ I modified that to ‘in the truth of who you are shall set you free’ because many get to the point of healing and asking questions and then admit ‘I don’t know who I am’”.

On God:

“I know who I have been told who I am. I know what society tells me I should be. But at my core being, who am I? We identify that we are made in the image of God, a God we know to be jealous, vengeful and angry. Still, it’s a hard contrast to what we also learn about God, that he is forgiving, loving and there is nothing you have to do to earn the love. But in certain songs, we are bowing down and saying we’re not worthy. In having that, there’s a confusion in the spirit and the mind”.

On Liberation:

“For me, I had to unlearn what I was told about God. So I asked the question, dissected it and made it to a study . Does this sound like liberation to me? So I took the pieces that sounded like liberation and rejected the things that were oppressive. Because if I were to put myself in a particular place or box, then that’s not liberation. I was led to those things that were in alignment with who I wanted myself to be and I identified as. It was really a journey”.

Even though these healing circles didn’t start as a business, Totten realized that it was time to expand and monetize. Soon, Unchained was born. But the idea brought up another chain for Totten: the myth that black women should provide free labor.

”I’m giving all this energy, this emotional, intellectual genius. For free. A part of it was honoring myself and honoring my labor. The business really started kicking up, when knowing the worth of my work and that it has value to people,” she said. “Even if they may not know it, I still offer it but in a way that it feels liberating. That’s why I do sliding scale and bartering . Because capitalism isn’t liberation”.

Although her counseling work at Unchained has received great reviews, Totten admits that her methods have made others uncomfortable.

I scare people. I really do. There are many people who will not engage with me out of fear of some kind or the image of me they’ve created in their mind. It can be very difficult to be around a liberated woman. Their oppression is not comfortable in my presence,” she said, “If people have not worked on own healing journey and owning their shit, it can be difficult when they come into contact with me. I can see exactly where the chains are. I have to speak the truth and the truth makes people uncomfortable. I’m very careful now. I learned to also ask permission to share. Can’t be going around reading everybody’s life!”

And while she’s breaking her own chains and helping others do the same, I wondered how Totten practices self care. Because healers need healing too. However, she finds it a bit hard to heal as a healer, but there’s three places she can get some self care.

On Richael Faithful:

“Finding a collective healing space for myself in the DMV area has been difficult, one where I’m not doing healing work. And so there’s one person I go to for energy work which is Richael Faithful. She has been tremendously helpful for me and building a tribe with healers here that understands intersectionality and doesn’t subscribe to any oppressive energy.  It has been the most meaningful [relationship] I’ve intentionally created this year.”

On NYC ‘s Harriet’s Apothecary and setting boundaries:

“I go to Harriet’s Apothecary and  travel to their healing villages. That’s a space where I also provide services, so there has to be a balance. One of the key things that’s been helping me and my journey is setting boundaries for myself. So when I go into that space, I ask ‘what is my intention?’ If my intention is to get healing for myself, that’s where  I stand. I’m not about to start coaching somebody on the side. But if my intention is to give healing modalities as well, then I’ll go into that.”

On Soul Shifting Retreats:

“Dr. Gee Love and Zoe Flowers at soul shifting retreats in Ecuador has been really helpful for me. To do concentrated work at Ecuador is a different energy. It’s five days of being an apprentice and absorbing knowledge. There, I don’t have to be in that healing role. I can share my process and learn.”

Overall, Erika Totten is a great healer and counselor for emotional emancipation but even she had to start somewhere. Want to start defining your own liberation? Totten has a few tips to share.

“Ask yourself the question ‘what does unchained you look like, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, and financially?’ Write those out in the affirmative like ‘I am’ . Once you identify all of those out, think what chains keep you from living unchained life in all those areas. Is it the chain of unworthiness? Is it the chain of silence? Is it the chain of inadequacy? Is it fear?,” she said.

“Then connect with a group,  a coach or someone that’s on the path to liberation. You want someone that’s a further along to be able to help guide you. Ask yourself, what does the unchained you look like and go from there. Be committed to liberation right now.”

Interested in Emotional Emancipation and Spiritual Life Coaching, learn more at and follow Erika Totten on Twitter at @2liveunchained.