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Helping clients understand the influence of their autonomic state in how they experience life: Q&A with Dr. Stephen Porges

🕑 4 minutes read
Posted October 10, 2023

“Although we evolved to adapt to threat, we need opportunities to feel safe in trusting relationships with others.”

— Dr. Stephen Porges

Since its publication in 1995, practitioners worldwide have embraced Dr. Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory within their therapeutic approach. Dr. Porges is a highly respected neuroscientist and psychologist, renowned for his extensive body of work comprising books, research papers and articles spanning decades on numerous subjects, from Polyvagal Theory to heart rate variability (HRV) and more. His research has revolutionized the way healing professionals look at the autonomic nervous system, offering a lens that emphasizes the importance of safety in connection.

Now, he and his son, Seth Porges, are collaborating to make Polyvagal Theory more accessible to a wider audience — and to help providers do the same for their clients. Their newest release is a transformative book that they’ve co-authored titled “Our Polyvagal World: How Safety and Trauma Change Us.”

In the Q&A below, Dr. Porges gives a summary of what readers can expect to learn from the book, who it’s for, and how practitioners and clients can put learnings into practice.

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On-demand Webinar: Dr. Stephen Porges and Seth Porges on Practical Applications of Polyvagal Theory and Their New Book

Access this free on-demand webinar, featuring Dr. Porges and Seth, as they dive into the experience and considerations of co-authoring their new book, Our Polyvagal World: How Safety and Trauma Change Us.

Who are you trying to help with this book and who do you recommend it for? Can Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) providers give this to their clients?

SP: We wrote the book as a vehicle to communicate with the general public. Given the relevance of Polyvagal Theory in our lives and the lives of our families, friends and colleagues, we wanted to translate the theory and the science that supports it into a language that was accessible to all. We wanted to explain how the theory was consistent with our intuitions. In a way, we had a goal using the book to demystify our responses to the diverse experiences of living a full and often challenging life.

While my previous books have been written for scientists and therapists, this book is written for anyone interested in understanding how their nervous system is involved in shaping their behaviors, health, feelings and thoughts. Although therapists will find the book useful, the target audience is the client, especially for clients of therapists, such as SSP providers, who are Polyvagal-informed.

What inspired you to write this book right now? Why is this topic timely or relevant in the present day?

SP: We all have been experiencing signals of threat. There are continuous cues of threat streaming from cable news and the internet. We experienced the disruption of our social nourishment during the pandemic, and we are experiencing the unpredictability of climate and political challenges. The structure of contemporary institutions seems to be overly biased on signals of threat. The book emphasizes that although we evolved to adapt to threat, we need opportunities to feel safe in trusting relationships with others.

Basically, it is not solely the challenges that create disruptions in our mental and physical health, but the limited availability of signals of safety through social interactions with trusted others. During these times, when trust is scarce, we may need to adapt by relating to other trusted mammals, such as cats, dogs and horses. The book emphasizes that our health and happiness are dependent on a foundational process, the dynamic reciprocal signaling of cues of safety.

How can readers use this more accessible approach to Polyvagal Theory to improve their lives?

SP: The reader will understand the powerful influence of their autonomic state in how they experience life. They will become more aware and respectful of both their own physiological state and that of others. Hopefully, this will lead to a greater awareness and respect of how their nervous system is adjusting to the dynamic changes of everyday living. As this occurs, we become more compassionate of others and to ourselves. The reader will learn about how important it is to have a resilient and functioning social engagement system in this journey leading to health and happiness. The reader will learn that there are effective tools and neural exercises, such as the Safe and Sound Protocol, to optimize this system.

Discover the Safe and Sound Protocol

Created by Dr. Stephen Porges, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a powerful listening therapy based on the science of Polyvagal Theory.

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