What is Polyvagal Theory?
Polyvagal Theory is a framework developed by Stephen Porges for understanding the body's reaction to stress or to dangerous environments. It posits that the state of our nervous system constantly picks up cues of safety or danger, and in turn plays a key role in our thoughts, feelings, and how we carry ourselves physically.
When we feel safe, our body sends signals to the brain that promote relaxation and social engagement. In that state, we are able to connect with others, feel physically relaxed, understand others clearly, and believe in hope and possibility. However, when we feel threatened, the vagus nerve instead sends signals that promote the fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses. From this place, we sense danger in others, feel sensory overwhelm, and feel on edge, drained, or hopeless when we think about the future. When someone has been through constant stress, as many survivors of trauma have, sometimes the nervous system can get stuck, unable to reach the relaxed and connected state as often or at all.
How does Polyvagal Informed Therapy work?
Polyvagal Informed Therapy is a type of therapy that takes into account the body's reaction to stress. In a therapy session, you might work with your therapist to understand how the nervous system functions, "map" your nervous system to get a better sense of how the body is responding to stress, as well gain clarity on the everyday things that are causing that stress.
Then you might come up with resources to help you find the things (people, places, activities) that help calm your nervous system, even for brief moments, so you can reach for them more often in difficult times.
How is Polyvagal Informed Therapy different than talk therapy?
Polyvagal informed therapy acknowledges that you aren't feeling the way you are in a vacuum. There is usually something in your environment that your body recognizes is not safe.
Many trauma survivors say that polyvagal informed therapy is affirming and validating that it agrees your reaction is not "all in your head". And unlike many talk therapies, it's not suggesting that you can change how you feel by simply "thinking better". Polyvagal Informed Therapy acknowledges the very real stresses and dangers around you that make it difficult to feel connected, relaxed, and safe and gives you the tools to address them or better manage them.
Want to begin Polyvagal Informed Therapy?
All of our therapists are educated in Polyvagal Theory and can incorporate it into their work with you if it's appropriate. Mention your interest in this model when you meet. To get started, head to our scheduling page to connect with one of our therapists with openings today.