What Makes Psychotherapy Possible

Today’s Video: Clarifying the Fundamental Task of Therapy

Rich Simon

Stephen Porges is a leading expert in developmental psychophysiology and developmental behavioral neuroscience. Yep, it’s a mouthful, but his work has direct relevance to what we do in the consulting room and how we can do it better.



In his groundbreaking book The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation, Stephen makes it clear that hard scientific evidence now exists for what most therapists instinctively know: successful therapy depends utterly on establishing a safe, caring, mutually trustworthy, stable relationship with a client.


“When threatened,” Stephen explains in a recent Networker interview, “humans are similar to other mammals. When they shift states to defend themselves, they become more reptilian, and lose access to their social communication skills. By understanding this adaptive reaction to danger, we’ve uncovered a neurobiological mechanism that enables us to better understand and treat mental disorders. Even in the intimacy of the clinical encounter, the relevance of evolutionary adaptation is being played out in therapists’ offices every day.”


In this brief video clip, Stephen tells us about one way Polyvagal Theory has helped changed many therapists’ approach in the trauma field. “What Polyvagal Theory provided,” he says, “was an understanding that trauma survivors use a very ancient defense system to survive, one that’s not easy to get out of. And that's why they're in clinical treatment. Understanding both the difficulties of moving out of that evolutionary state of defense while also understanding that it’s also a heroic state that helped them survive is a key to doing effective psychotherapy.”


In the Networker Webcast series Why Brain Science Matters, he goes on to explain how Polyvagal Theory clarifies the fundamental task of psychotherapy.


Why Brain Science Matters
Concrete Strategies for Your Practice

Click here for full course details

Topic: Trauma

Tags: brain science | behavioral neuroscience | communication skills | intimacy | mental disorders | neurobiological | neuroscience | polyvagal theory | psychotherapy | science | Stephen Porges | survivors | therapist | therapists | therapy

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2 Comments

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:39:31 PM | posted by suzanw
I play tennis. I had a lot of trauma growing up. In a competitive situation I feel threatened and my thinking switches to "trying not to lose" instead of "playing to win". There is a huge differential between my play in practice and in competitive situations. I become very aware of fear in competition.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 2:56:55 PM | posted by Nanette Yavel
How does this therapy really differ from good old fashion Rogerian humanist therapy which provides a safe and respectful environment. Personally I do not see the difference