Rethinking the Autonomic Nervous System

Stephen Porges on a Popular Neuroscientific Misconception

One of the primary connections between neuroscience and psychotherapy is the understanding of the autonomic nervous system. For decades therapists have been taught that there are two sides—the sympathetic (stressors) and parasympathetic (restoration)—complementing each other.

But according to Stephen Porges—developer of the Polyvagal Theory—this teaching is off the mark. He has found that these two systems are not equivalent, but are actually hierarchical, and that there is a third system to consider—the vagal circuit.

Watch the clip below from Stephen’s session in our webcast series, Why Neuroscience Matters, to hear him talk about the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, and why trying to control behaviors independently of physiological states doesn’t work.

Stephen Porges is the developer of Polyvagal Theory, a widely influential expansion of our understanding of the autonomic nervous system. He’s the director of the Brain-Body Center in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. This clip is taken from his session in our brain science video course:

Brain Science Matters
This series is designed to enhance your clinical skills, speed up healing, and transform your clients’ lives by translating complex concepts like neuroplasticity and brain integration into real world therapeutic procedures. It covers:

  • The “how-to’s” of using brain-based therapies for moving clients through trauma, anxiety, and depression more fully and quickly than ever
  • Steps for assessing clients’ brain integration, setting therapeutic goals, and conducting sessions based on brain science insights
  • Clinical strategies that harness the brain’s ability to rewire itself
  • Principles for identifying a client’s “sweet spot” for effective learning, retention, and lasting change
  • Gender-based brain differences and which approaches work best with men and women

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