Deb Dana is a clinician and consultant specializing in working with complex trauma and Coordinator of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. She developed the Rhythm of Regulation clinical training series and lectures internationally on ways in which polyvagal theory informs work with trauma survivors.
Polyvagal Theory is a product of brain science. Developed during laboratory research by Stephen W. Porges, the core of the theory was published in a book that turned out to be a fairly difficult read. Deb Dana, a clinician and subsequent collaborator with Porges, simplifies the material with an eye toward application in therapeutic treatment. I am about to simplify the matter even further (and thus sacrifice a good chunk of nuance) in an effort to assist anyone wondering whether or not such reading might be of interest to them.
The essence of the theory is this: The internal mechanisms of the body and brain register three types of encounter - the safe experience, the dangerous experience, and the life-threatening experience. These judgements are made, to large extent, on the basis of an individual's personal history. If, say, someone smiling at you is remembered as a portent of praise and affection then such a smile would register as a safe experience. If someone smiling at you is, instead, remembered as a precursor to criticism then such a smile would register as the portent of a dangerous experience. If a smile is recalled as the signal of an impending blow, then such a smile would register as a life-threatening experience. A person who has been severely traumatized will spend more time than is healthy in the dangerous/life-threatening end of the experiential spectrum. While these internal judgements are often deeply entrenched, the states themselves are fluid and capable of being maneuvered through. The psychological application involves retraining that registering system so that a mind spends more of its time in the safe (ventral vagal) experience.
The theory is, as I've mentioned, more nuanced than this and Deb Dana does a wonderful job explaining it. That explanation constitutes approximately one-third of this book. The rest is devoted to clinical exercises designed to be used by therapists during treatment sessions. Those exercises make sense in the context of the theory, and offer another avenue to take in the difficult journey toward recovering from trauma.
I've done a lot of reading on this subject, enough to know that neuroscience is bringing fresh strategies into a field that really needs them. Trauma is complicated. Should you find a methodology that speaks to you, it might be worth exploring.
Polyvagal Theory (PT) is an evolutionarily grounded, neuroscientific and psychological construct that explains the role of the vagus nerve in mammalian threat response and emotion regulation via social connection (co-regulation) initially introduced by Stephen Porges in 1994.
For a good introduction to PT, read The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory by Stephen W. Porges.
I can’t recommend this book enough for therapist that work with trauma But even for therapists who don’t this is a great addition to build your skills and bring some of the research of some of the experiential practices in therapy. Deb Dana brings a theory that was very jargon heavy in Stephen Prorges great works work and makes it client friendly and interactive. She goes into play, bodywork, processing different emotions, emotion tracking and so many other skills that will be helpful to any therapy practice.
I read about polyvagal theory because it seemed to be somewhat commonly cited by current trauma therapies. This book is largely about clinical practice, but does talk about the scientific basis.
I also read some criticisms online that said that the science is not well-founded, specifically that certain nervous system structures don't work the way that Porges says they do, and that nervous systems of mammals and reptiles aren't divided up the way that Porges describes.
I don't have any background in neuroscience myself, and very limited education in natural sciences in general (some college coursework). I didn't understand those criticisms well enough to evaluate them and decide whether I agreed with them.
What I can say is that most of the practice exercises in this book seem relevant regardless of the theory behind them. Naming the ventral vagal, sympathetic, and dorsal vagal pathways / systems helps a person sort their experiences based on how they physically feel.
One takeaway that's repeated over and over: patients who are introduced to polyvagal theory often feel relieved by the idea. Conceptualizing their trauma response as an overactive surveillance system that can be modified helps them shed the shame that society places. In other words: "I thought I was defective, but now I appreciate that my body was reacting in ways that kept me safe before. Now that I'm safe, I can learn to react in different ways."
A clear, well-researched and useful guide to Stephen Porges “polyvagal theory.” An expert translation of the theory into practice for both personal and professional use. Some prior knowledge of the theory is probably necessary as this book simplifies it so well that some of the complexity may be lost and some of the relevance of the proposed exercises missed. Very useful for therapists or anyone in the caring profession.
Love this book and it’s practical applications of a complex theory. Helps lay the foundation for therapy work and easily integrates into practice. Use of the maps is bringing another dimension of healing to my clients. Deb Dana is brilliant!
This book was full of great information and completely changed how I think about our nervous system and its regulation. It is definitely written for therapists not parents of children who are dysregulated, but provides lots of good background. I have since found other resources for parents that build upon the polyvagal theory and I now have a strong foundation to fully understand them.
Great practical tips for a therapy based on the poly-vagal theory. The book first explains the theory and then mentions the different ways this theory can be used to facilitate the therapy process. Really practical and insightful.
Informative, easy-t0-understand, practical takeaways and worksheets that help the mental health clinician help their clients understand the autonomic nervous systems actions and reactions to the environment. Gives hope that while our nervous systems are wired to survive, with effort and compassion, we can rewire default responses to live more fully today.
Really good as a practical guide to how to implement polyvagal theory in your therapy practice.
As a social work student, I found this quite clear and helpful to understand and practice polyvagal awareness. I am not yet a therapist, but this theory makes a lot of sense for understanding clients and myself.
As a neurodivergent person, I find polyvagal theory more helpful and accessible than mindfulness based on cognitive labeling of emotional states. Because of my alexithymia, I find it easier to notice and name my polyvagal state than my current emotion. This guide offers a practical method for those of us who have trouble with mindfulness-based emotional awareness to more easily tune into our current state of dys/regulation.
As always, it loses a star for not having an explicitly feminist and anti-oppressive lens. You have to do some translating work to connect this theory to the experiences of clients for whom “safety” is not a given experience because of oppression.
First came accross the polyvagal theory (poly=many, vagel=wandering) while researching complex cptsd.
A well written book that looks at vagel nerve the circuits that are regulated in the brain stem and how this is regulated when in different states (fight/flight) so over sees the functions of parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system. Unfolded are their functions in the bodys reaction /social interactional behaviour and pick of of cues.
The book keeps it simple enabling you to really understand the evolution of the theory.
This is a must read if you work with clients that have trauma. Understanding the autonomic nervous system is key to helping your clients develop self-awareness. Once they master self-awareness, they can begin the work of self-regulation.
I originally bought Stephen Porges' book, but it was way too scientifically technical for me. At that point I could've bought his pocket guide, but this book appealed to me because I care more about the application of the theory than the theory itself. And oh boy is that application fantastic!
This review is going to be a long one, so let me tell you what to expect. I'm going to outline five things that I noticed as cool/helpful or that changed in me from having read about polyvagal theory. I'm not going to explain what the theory actually is though (you can Google for that or checkout Instagram). I'm also not going to spend a lot of time talking about the book itself. My short take away is that it was a relatively easy read, explained concepts clearly, and offered a lot of exercises and concrete application.
So! On to the things that interested me..
1. It's actually pretty important to feel safe. Within this framework, it is physiologically difficult if not impossible to have genuine social connection or a feeling of security while the body is feeling unsafe. This is sort of obvious in retrospect, but I guess I thought that I could think myself calm, or that the feelings of anxiety were aiding me in the moment.
I decided to experiment with this by implementing a small habit: when I notice that I'm feeling unsafe/anxious/wanting to run away/wanting to fight, then I pause what I'm doing. Take deep and slow breaths. Bring as much gentle curiosity as I can. When I did this during solo moments of worry, I found myself feeling less urgent and closed in afterward. When I tried this during interpersonal conflict, both of us were able to settle and have difficult conversations while maintaining connection. Frankly, they were the best, hard conversations I've had.
2. The body/mind connection. Within this framework, your body is tracking the environment around you and it's responding as it believes is correct. My body senses danger? I feel tense and activated. My body senses safety? I feel relaxed and comfortable. How I feel comes after my body taking in information. The stories that I tell myself about a situation are irrevocably linked up to what I'm physically experiencing.
The example from the book about this is how when someone is feeling unsafe, a neutral face is read as angry. That same neutral face will be read accurately as neutral or even positive by someone who's physiologically feeling safe. There's an example from my life where this clicks and it brought a significant, "ah ha!" moment. When I'm feeling stressed and low energy and I think about my life, it feels like everything is terrible and without meaning. Then I go to bed, wake up feeling rested, and I think about the same things that had been on my mind the night before, and things no longer feel terrible and without meaning. And this has been incredibly confusing for me, because what's the truth? How do I actually feel? How is it that I can think about the very same events in one state and have one interpretation, but when I think about the same things in a different state, I have a different interpretation? Polyvagal theory offers a fairly complete answer to these previously impossible questions.
3. This re-contextualized a lot of my past experiences. I don't want to go into a lot of detail about this one, but the short version is that it was extremely validating to see my past in this light and it allowed for some releasing of tension.
4. This removes any need for internal adversarial orientation. My body is doing its best for me. My body has been conditioned from the experiences that I've had. All of the behaviors that are causing me difficulties now, were at one point mechanisms that served to protect me. This removes a huge chunk of shame and blame.
5. The framework and language itself. The way it structures experience in a way that can be easily mapped onto. The way it provides keywords both for internal use and for communicating to others. Simply having named concepts is useful for understanding.
Anywhoo, would definitely recommend. Only 4/5 because while it was absolutely useful, it's being dissolved into my broader body of knowledge instead of living on as a tool I repeatedly go to use.
This book is fantastic. Polyvagal theory is hereby my new therapy baby. I love finding new language to describe internal processes and this book gave me a lot of it. I only wish she had gone into more detail about feelings that require overlapping polyvagal states! It’s absolutely fascinating to me. I also appreciate how I can weave this theory with Pat Ogden’s sensorimotor psychotherapy and Richard Schwartz’s internal family systems theory. I love it when all the pieces fit together. Would highly recommend to anyone dealing with c-ptsd.
Un libro "para terapeutas" que toda persona que desee conocerse haría bien en leer. Te enseña a crear tu propio mapa de detonantes que te provocan luchar, huir o congelar (a tu sistema nervioso autónomo). Cuanto más conozcas tus automatismos, más libre puedes ser de ellos. O prevenirlos para que no afecten tanto tu vida.
Un libro que explica sencillamente una teoría densa y que enseña a practicar ejercicios.
i will come back to this book again and again. a thorough enough overview of the polyvagal theory that i feel i understand it without being overwhelming. deb dana's language is straightforward and proceeds at just the right pace. a gradual approach into the material with exercises at every step, both to complete alone and with a therapist. this book is clearly written for therapists but i found it very useful as a layperson.
Brilliant and practical book by how our bodies as an Autonomic Surveillance system and the impact on our Way of Being in the world. The book is broadly divided into three parts Theory, (explained the model in a very practical way.), Exercises (On how to apply the work), some interesting items to spare.
i loved this book. it is probably the most useful therapy book i've read all year. i have been using it in groups and sessions and it has become a shared language among my clients. i have found this book especially helpful in working with clients who have trauma but are not ready to dive into the details of trauma yet. i would recommend this to every therapist.
This is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. This theory is, in my mind, unquestionably valuable in helping people to understand the different emotional states humans progress through at different times and how to work back and forth between them. I read this as an audio book and will now re read as a written one to take notes. Brilliant.
This book was a very helpful guide to actually using polyvagal theory in therapy. It was well-written and very understandable. The numerous exercises and handy worksheets made it seem more likely that I can actually use the theory with my clients. I appreciate having such a detailed and rich guide.
An interesting and useful model that contains elements of both psychology and medical model understandings of mental health (particularly anxiety and dissociation). Accessible model, and may help facilitate bridging conversations between psychiatry and psychology.
This is not just a book on theory, but also an immensely practical book filled with concrete exercises for both clients and therapists as well as several worksheets that can be utilized during sessions, replete with examples. This is a resource that I will return to.
This was a really interesting listen that reminded me to reconnect with some of the therapeutic tools I learned in less cognitive modalities (art, theatre, etc). I recommend it to anyone interested in tangible ideas and exercises to explore vagal phases.
Useful reading for anyone wanting to understand the human nervous system and gain a deeper understanding of things we can do to help ourselves feel 'safer' and thrive. Written from a therapists point of view, but fascinating and educational for everyone.
The first section is one of the best and most powerful explanations of polyvagal theory I have read. 5/5. The rest is a series of practical exercises and applications for therapeutic interventions, which I guess is the purpose of the book, but which, in contrast, read more like an extended appendix... 3.75