Polyvagal theory

Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory and its clinical applications
withStephen Porges, Deb Dana, Dafna Lender, Jonathan Baylin, Jan Winhall
Duration: 27h 39m 19s
Recordings of the course available without time limits
Available in Italian (simultaneous translation), English
🪙 You'll receive 50 ECM credits
(ECM Credits valid on 2023)
🪙 You will receive 27 CPD credits
🪙 You will receive 27 CE credits


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Information about the event:
The autonomic nervous system is at the heart of daily living powerfully shaping our clients’ experiences of safety and influencing their capacity for connection. Polyvagal Theory, through the organizing principles of hierarchy, neuroception, and co-regulation, has revolutionized our understanding of how this system works. We now know that trauma interrupts the development of autonomic regulation and shapes the system away from connection into patterns of protection. With an updated map of the autonomic circuits that underlie behaviors and beliefs, we can reliably lead our clients (adults and children) out of adaptive survival responses into the autonomically regulated state of safety that is necessary for successful treatment.
A Polyvagal Theory guided approach to therapy begins with helping clients map their autonomic profiles and track their moment to moment movement along the autonomic hierarchy. With this foundation, the essential clinical questions address how to help clients interrupt habitual response patterns and find safety in a state of engagement. Clients’ autonomic nervous systems are highly tuned surveillance systems sensitive to the slightest cues of danger and challenged to take in cues of safety. Polyvagal Theory gives therapists a guide to becoming a regulated and co-regulating resource for clients and concrete ways to help them find, and savor, experiences of safety. Working from a foundation of Polyvagal Theory, therapists have practical ways to effectively help clients identify and interrupt their familiar response patterns and strategies to shape their autonomic nervous systems toward safety and connection.

What will this event be about?

Read the abstract of the event

Stephen Porges

The polyvagal Theory: demysTifying The body’s response To Trauma (This presentation was part of the Attachment and Trauma Congress, Rome 2014)

Human responses to trauma and abuse are devastating and compromise subsequent social behavior and emotion regulation. Understanding the mechanisms underlying the “hardwired” response to life threat, may demystify these debilitating consequenc- es. The Polyvagal Theory provides a plausible explanation of how trauma experiences and chronic abuse disrupt homeostatic physiological processes and social behavior and how clinical treatments might be designed to remediate these problems and how trauma distorts perception and displaces spontaneous social behaviors with defen- sive reactions. The presentation will focus on the restorative power of understanding the adaptive function of stress reactions as an important adjunct to treatment. By deconstruct- ing the biobehavioral features of stress reactions, both client and therapist are better informed in their journey to a successful outcome. The presentation will emphasize the role of “neuroception,” a neurophysiological process through which our nervous system evaluates risk in the environment, without awareness and often independent of a cognitive narrative. Trauma may reset neuroception to protect us from others when there is no “real” danger. The presentation will inform the therapist on how to assess the deleterious consequences of trauma-related experiences by understand- ing the adaptive psychological, behavioral, and health features of each of the three “Polyvagal” visceral response strategies (i.e., social engagement, mobilization, and immobilization ) and how successful therapeutic interventions promote a neurocep- tion of safety with the consequential improvements in mental and physical health by enabling mobilization and immobilization to occur without fear.


Polyvagal Theory expands our understanding of normal and atypical behavior, mental health, and psychiatric disorders. Polyvagal Theory, by incorporating a developmental perspective, explains how maturation of the autonomic nervous system forms the neural “platform” upon which social behavior and the deve- lopment of trusting relationships are based. The theory explains how reactions to danger and life threat and experiences of abuse and trauma may retune our nervous system to respond to friends, caregivers, and teachers as if they were predators. The theory may help practitioners distinguish the contextual features that trigger defense from those that are calming and support spontaneous social engagement.

The Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. (This presentation was part of the Attachment and Trauma Congress, New York 2017)

Safety is critical in enabling humans to optimize their potential. The neurophysiological processes associated with feeling safe are a prerequisite not only for social behavior but also for accessing both the higher brain structures that enable humans to be creative and generative and the lower brain structures involved in regulating health, growth, and restoration. The Polyvagal Theory explains how social behavior turns off defenses and promotes opportunities to feel safe. It provides an innovative model to understand bodily responses to trauma and stress and the importance of the client’s physiological state in mediating the effectiveness of clinical treatments. From a Polyvagal perspective, interventions that target the capacity to feel safe and use social behavior to regulate physiological state can be effective in treating psychological disorders that are dependent on defense systems.

Deb Dana

"Creating a security story: a polyvalent guide to connection" (Taken from Live Webinar November 2020)

The autonomic nervous system plays a crucial role in our daily lives, powerfully affecting our experiences of safety and influencing our ability to connect. The Polyvagal Theory describes the different autonomic circuits at the origin of certain behaviours and beliefs, allowing us to understand the body-brain pathways that determine the emergence of our personal safety and survival history. Today, we know that trauma blocks the development of autonomic regulation and profoundly affects the nervous system, inhibiting its ability to connect and determining the development of protective patterns. For many clients, states of attachment/escape and collapse are frequent, intense and prolonged, while the state of safety and connectedness is elusive. Using an updated map of the autonomic nervous system, we can, therefore, arrive at a new understanding of the post-traumatic patterns that characterise hyperarousal, hypervigilance, disconnection and insensitivity, and effectively help our clients to abandon their survival-oriented adaptive responses, accessing the state of safety - regulated by the autonomic nervous system - necessary for successful therapeutic treatment. A Polyvagal Theory-guided approach to therapy offers the therapist a set of strategies to identify and interrupt the protective patterns to which the client habitually resorts, facilitating the development of skills that allow them to fully experience - and 'savour' - safety-related experiences. If we speak the language of the nervous system, we can help our clients safely tune into their autonomic states, reshape their nervous system, and rewrite the traumatic history they each carry within their autonomic pathways.


- Apply the three organizational principles of the Polyvagal Theory to one’s clinical work;
- Use autonomic mapping during clinical sessions;
- Use the Social Involvement System as a source of co-regulation during clinical sessions.

Dafna Lender

“The Polyvagal Theory for Children: Practical Application to Build Safety, Create Attachment, and Develop Connection” (Taken from Live webinar October 2021)

Do you know therapists who seem to have “the magic touch” when it comes to getting children to trust and connect with them? What if there are actual behaviours that you can learn and incorporate into your way of being with children that can solicit openness, relaxation and trust? Join Dafna Lender, LCSW, for this compelling live webinar, as she walks you through the complexities of using polyvagal theory with your young clients. Using your own social engagement system and tuning into the child’s physiological state you’ll learn:

Regulating and calming techniques for more curiosity, openness & connection. How sending safety messages to brains of mistrusting kids will make them more open to new relational experiences. To use voice, rhythm, facial expressions and touch to elicit trust. To surprise the brain of a defensive child with novel responses to grab attention, interrupt their automatic defensiveness, and generate curiosity. Exercises and activities to make shut down, guarded or angry clients feel more relaxed, open and ready to connect.

Polyvagal Theory – Application for Children:

  • Foundational Principles and features
  • Applying Polyvagal Theory in Clinical Practice
  • Consolidate the knowledge acquired by watching clinical films

Harnessing your Social Engagement System:

• How to Reset when Compromised by Stress and Trauma
• Elicit Trust – Voice, Rhythm, Racial Expressions, Touch
• Exercises that hone in on various vocal qualities
• Create and maintain an open facial expression with defensive children
•Strategies to incorporate safe touch
•Playfulness and Paradox to Suspend Defensiveness

Surprise the brain of a defensive child with novel responses to:

• Grab attention
• Down-regulate sympathetic activation
• Interrupt automatic defensiveness
• Generate curiosity

Movement and Breathing Exercises to Create Connection:

• Ventral vagal activities for open and engaged state
• Promote attachment behavior
• Dorsal vagal activities to pendulate between arousal and relaxation
• Rhythmic activities for maintaining regulation
• Counteracting shut down, guarded or angry behavior (responses)

Learning objectives of the Workshop:

  • Evaluate the foundational principles and features of the Polyvagal Theory in order to elicit trust in the young clients you work with.
  • Apply the features of the Polyvagal Theory to inform clinical treatment interventions for children.
  • Determine the Social Engagement System and how the brain-face-heart connection evolved. Analyze when a child’s Social Engagement System is compromised by stress and trauma and help to reset it.
  • Construct how a therapy session can be planned and carried out to maximize client safety, social engagement and regulation.
    Implement specific techniques for optimizing polyvagal regulation with children.
Jonathan Baylin

Applying the Polyvagal Model to increase patients’ emotional self-regulation (This presentation was part of the webinar made in autumn 2021)

In this two-part course, Dr. Baylin will first explain how the polyvagal model connects to emotion regulation and the processes of shifting between states of openness and self-defense. The goal of part one is to give therapists a brain-based explanation of the polyvagal model and how it helps to understand a wide range of clinical problems that all share difficulties with regulating strong affect, with staying in “the window of self-regulation”. Dr. Baylin believes that therapists can incorporate knowledge about the polyvagal model into their daily practice more effectively when they first have a good working knowledge of these processes. He will discuss the difference between automatic, “bottom up” state shifting and “top down” state shifting to lay the foundation for Part Two when we will focus on how to strengthen our ability to use the top down intentional processes to manage polyvagal state changes. The top down mode of state shifting arises from humans’ unique ability to regulate the state shifting process rather than being at the mercy of the automated process that can create chronic problems with emotion regulation. Dr. Baylin will also discuss how individual differences in the functioning of the polyvagal systems arise from a combination of genetic differences and the effects of life experiences on the development of the polyvagal systems with an emphasis on the effects of early life experience on the development of the polyvagal systems.

Building on the brain-based model of state shifting described in Part One, Dr. Baylin will use Part Two to discuss a number of different ways to promote intentional, mindful regulation of internal state shifting to support improved emotion regulation. Dr. Baylin will apply Porges’ concept of “neural exercises” to help therapists learn how to access the ventral vagal system that supports healthy emotion regulation and social engagement. He will explain a number of different pathways or “portals” into the ventral vagal system that we can use to promote more effective emotion regulation and state shifting in ourselves and in our patients. In addition, Dr. Baylin will discuss the role of the therapist as a “social buffering”, coregulating, “brain whispering” partner in the process of helping patients’ shift from chronic self-defensiveness into the state of open engagement.

Learning objectives of the Webinar:

  • Learn how the Polyvagal Model connects to emotion regulation.
  • Understand the difference between automatic and self-guided state shifting.
  • Learn how early life experience affects the development of the polyvagal systems.
  • Strengthen therapists’ ability to activate the ventral vagal social engagement system in themselves and their patients.
  • Learn several different ways to help patients shift from defensive states into openness.
  • Integrate brain-based knowledge into daily clinical practice.
Jan Winhall

Revolutionizing Trauma and Addiction Treatment with the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model™ | (This presentation was part of the webinar made in July 2022)

The Felt Sense Polyvagal Model™ (FSPM) shifts the current pathologizing paradigm to a strength-based approach. Through the lens of Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal theory, addiction is seen as an adaptive stress response in our autonomic nervous system. Addictive behaviors are the bodies attempt to emotionally regulate by acting as propellers that facilitate neurophysiological shifts in our nervous system. The model integrates Porges’ Polyvagal theory and Gendlin’s Felt Sense Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy enabling us to appreciate trauma/addictive behaviors as adaptive responses in maladaptive environments. The FSPM provides a generic framework that can support any therapeutic modality. This 6 hour webinar will present an introduction to my book Treating Trauma and Addiction with the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model. I will give a detailed description of the integrative theoretical framework of the model as I developed it over four decades in working with trauma survivors. Application of the model will be demonstrated in an introduction to The Embodied Assessment and Treatment Tool.™ (EATT)™

The EATT™ provides a somatic assessment of client’s capacity to regulate their autonomic nervous system, and integrate embodied experiences. As you develop the experiential assessment over time it becomes an organized treatment plan and can be stored online as a clinical record. The EATT™ package is downloadable on my website. Detailed examples of how to use the Tool will be demonstrated. Carnes Three Circle Practice, a tool for working with addiction, will be explained so clinicians can apply the model right away. Participants will also learn about Gendlin’s Focusing/Felt Sense method of psychotherapy and how to guide clients into connecting with their bodies. A mixture of didactic information, experiential practices, demonstrations, and case examples will guide the clinician in applying the model. This course will be informative for those new to the field of trauma/addiction as well as seasoned practitioners.

What will you learn?

By the end of the webinar, therapists will have learned to:

  • Describe three concepts in polyvagal theory as they apply to trauma informed embodied psychotherapy.
  • Describe the neurophysiological states of the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model™ for treating trauma and addiction.
  • Explain trauma and addiction through the lens of Polyvagal theory.
  • Name the four avenues into Gendlin’s concept of Felt sense and begin to apply this embodied practice in psychotherapy.
  • Explain the Three Circle Practice and how to apply it with clients.
  • Describe the Embodied Assessment and Treatment Tool™ (EATT) and how it differs from the traditional pathologizing model.
  • Help clients to Identify their autonomic state and strategies to help them heal.

About the Speaker

Read the Speaker’s biography

Stephen Porges
Stephen Porhes is professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, he is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at the University of Maryland. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory.
Deb Dana
Deb Dana, LCSW is a clinician and consultant specializing in working with complex trauma. She is a consultant to the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute, clinical advisor to Khiron Clinics, and an advisor to Unyte. She developed the Rhythm of Regulation Clinical Training Series and lectures internationally on ways Polyvagal Theory informs work with trauma survivors. Deb is the author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation (Norton, 2018), Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client-Centered Practices, (Norton, 2020) Befriending the Nervous System (Sounds True, 2020) co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018), and creator of the Polyvagal Flip Chart (Norton, 2020).
Dafna Lender
Dafna Lender trained as a social worker and over the years has become an international point of reference for the training and supervision of therapists specialized in working with children and families. She has obtained a certification (both as a Trainer and as a Supervisor / Consultant) both in Theraplay and in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy or DDP (Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy). Dr. Lender's acquired expertise is based on 25 years of experience in family therapy and attachment issues work, during which she has worked in many different contexts: in addition to her own clinical practice, she has of after-school programs for at-risk adolescents; therapeutic programs for foster families; stabilization of family crises; therapeutic programs in residential facilities. Dafna Lender's style - both as a therapist and as a teacher - is a mix of cheerfulness and depth, accompanied by a playful attitude, but also deep and passionate. Dr. Lender is also co-author of the book “Theraplay: the Practitioner's Guide” (2020). You are currently involved in training and supervision in 15 countries, in 4 different languages: English, Hebrew, French and Spanish.
Jonathan Baylin
Dr. Jonathan Baylin received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in 1981. For the past twenty years, while continuing his clinical practice, he has immersed himself in the study of neuroscience and in teaching mental health practitioners about the brain. He has given numerous workshops for mental health professionals on “Putting the Brain in Therapy” and has delivered keynote addresses internationally and nationally at conferences on childhood trauma and attachment. Several years ago, Dr. Baylin began a collaborative relationship with Daniel Hughes, a leader in the field of attachment-focused therapy. Their first book, Brain Based Parenting, was released by Norton Press in 2012. In 2016, their second book, The Neurobiology of Attachment-focused Therapy, was released by Norton. Both books are part of the Norton series on Interpersonal Neurobiology.
Jan Winhall
Jan Winhall, M.S.W. F.O.T. is an author, teacher, and psychotherapist. She is an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Social Work, where she supervises graduate students. Jan is director of Focusing on Borden, a psychotherapy and training centre, and Co-Director of The Borden Street Clinic. She presents internationally on her book Treating Trauma and Addiction with the Felt Sense Polyvagal Model, Routledge, 2021.

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