The Polyvagal Theory: safety and centredness in therapy

This month Katina is going to be teaching on a subject that she has made a concerted, personal study of – the Polyvagal Theory, and how it applies to the therapeutic encounter.

The way we have traditionally understood the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to function is as a binary, antagonistic system, where we are either stimulated to action (as in the sympathetic nervous system ‘fight or fight’ response), or where we are calmed (the parasympathetic response – sometimes called the ‘rest and recover’ response ). Though we speak of these things conceptually, they have immediate biological consequences for us: the function of the ANS is to mediate various hormone cascades (eg, adrenaline, or serotonin) to produce physical outcomes that relate to our survival.

Polyvagal theory offers an expanded understanding of our autonomic nervous system.  The ANS scans for cues of safety, danger and life threat without involving the thinking parts of our brain.  An unconscious and automatic hierarchy of responses has evolved to respond to these cues, and these responses can become habituated in ways that do not serve people to live with safety and pleasure in life.

We can and do have a broader range of behavioural choices available to us – in the Polyvagal theory this is known as the social engagement response. We came into the world wired to connect with others, and in the pursuit of living life in ways where we can feel safe in our bodies, environment and connections with others and ourselves. William James, an American philosopher and psychologist said, “The greatest thing then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally as opposed to our enemy.”

Polyvagal theory is a theory about unconscious responses – the relevance for hypnotherapists is evident. Importantly, there are things we can do with and for our clients during the hypnotherapy session that integrate the new understandings of the ANS polyvagal theory has brought us so that we can help facilitate better, happier outcomes.

Join us to learn all about it.


Aug 05 2021


6:00 pm - 7:30 pm



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Rachel Kennedy


Rachel Kennedy
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