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Stephen Porges — Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory

Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, a 2019 Cape Cod Institute workshop led by Stephen Porges August 5-9, 2019

Stephen Porges

Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe
August 5-9, 2019

This course will include updated course material.  

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. 

In this workshop, through presentations, experiential exercises, and class discussion, we will learn the principles and features of the Polyvagal Theory and how to apply it in a clinical setting. We will cover how the Polyvagal Theory can demystify several features related to stress-related illnesses and psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, autism, depression, and anxiety. Time will be spent on what the Social Engagement System is and how the brain-face-heart connection evolved. We will discuss how deficits in the regulation of the Social Engagement System relate to the core features of several psychiatric disorders. We will learn how neural process evaluates risk in the environment and triggers adaptive neural circuits which promote either social interactions or defensive behaviors and how the Social Engagement System is compromised by stress and trauma and how to reset it.

The Polyvagal Theory

  • The discovery of three neural platforms for social engagement, fight/flight, and shutdown behaviors

Social Engagement System and Psychiatric and Behavioral Disorders

  • How our facial expressions, vocalizations, and gestures are regulated by neural mechanisms involved in regulating our autonomic nervous system


Neuroception: Detecting and Evaluating Risk

  • How our social and physical environment triggers changes in physiological state

Demystifying Biobehavioral Responses to Trauma and Abuse

  • Fight/flight and immobilization defense strategies

Applying the Polyvagal Theory in Clinical Settings

  • State regulation as a core feature of psychiatric disorders


Stephen W. Porges, PhD, is Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium within the Kinsey Institute. He holds the position of Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of both the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He has published more than 300 peer reviewed scientific papers across several disciplines including anesthesiology, biomedical engineering, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, neuroscience, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, psychometrics, space medicine, and substance abuse. In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders. He is the author of The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (Norton, 2011), The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe, (Norton, 2017) and co-editor of Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (Norton, 2018). He is the creator of a patented music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol™, which currently is used by more than 1000 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, and to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement.

What our alumni are saying:

"Stephen Porges is a phenomenal presenter"

"Dr. Porges! Brilliant and charming!"

"Dr. Porges was an excellent instructor with deep knowledge of physiological processes linked to physical and mental health"


NJ Social Workers:

Social workers completing this course will receive 15 Clinical Practice continuing education credits. ASWB ACE individual course approval statements can be found here.

For all other CE information:

Please visit our CE page and search by discipline.