There is increasing understanding of the role of working with the nervous system in therapy, and Polyvagal Theory provides a simple and effective way of assisting clients with understanding and regulating their nervous system.
Dee and I were both very lucky to be involved in Deb Danas Polyvagal course which was conducted online a few years ago which ignited our passion for working in this way. Deb Dana has an incredibly calming presence, and her course was full of knowledge and practical strategies to assist clients in creating more regulating of their nervous systems.
Polyvagal Theory was created By Dr. Stephen Porges who identified a hierarchy of response built into our autonomic nervous system and anchored in the evolutionary development of our species.
The theory is anchored in three organised principles:
- Autonomic Hierarchy
Autonomic hierarchy related to the three pathways of response we have in our nervous system: dorsal vagal immobilisation, which is a protective shutdown response, sympathetic which is the pathway that prepares us for action, and ventral which responds to cues of safety and supports feelings of being safely engaged and socially connected.
The second principle neuroception relates to the ways our autonomic nervous system responds to cues of safety, danger, and life-threat from within our bodies, in the world around us, and in our connections to others. As humans we are are constantly scanning our environment at a sub-conscious level for these cues and they impact on our physiological state.
The third principal co-regulation describes how our nervous system looks for and needs others with who we feel safe enough to connect and with who we can create supportive and protective relationships. Co-regulation is a biological imperative: a need that must be met to sustain life. It is through reciprocal regulation of our autonomic states that we feel safe to move into connection and create trusting relationships.
There are many other components of taking a PVT approach, however these core principles are some of the foundational elements of how we can assist clients using a PVT framework. With this understanding, this forms the basis of many educational, but also experiential interventions we can complete with clients. Personally, I have found utilising a Polyvagal framework has greatly assisted clients in understanding themselves, and their nervous systems more.
Other benefits of taking a PVT approach include:
- Creates more insight and awareness for a client and their nervous system
- A client can understand what triggers them
- It can reduce shame and negative feelings, and increase curiosity and compassion
- It can be applied with anyone
- It is personalized and individualized
- It can be used in combination with other approaches and therapies
- Non pathologizing approach (e.g., ODD, MDD)
- It can enhance our own understanding of ourselves
If you would like to learn more about how to integrate Polyvagal Theory in Therapy, Liam Spicers Introduction to Polyvagal Theory in Therapy webinar will be available for on demand purchase in the next few weeks. Feel free to reach out in the meantime if you have any questions, and we hope this has been a reminder to nurture and take care of your own nervous system today, and into the future.