Browsing: Polyvagal theory


I am a big fan of Rothschild. Her earlier book (2000) elevated awareness of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the substrate of all health, in the psychotherapy world, and taught us to look for and precisely recognize ANS signals in order to appropriately support recovery from trauma. Her new book adds excellent additional detail, including a “six-categories-of-ANS” poster that can now be viewed on the wall of our classroom at CSES. The bulk of the book is about therapy insights, which I found to be excellent; my concerns were just in a few pages of her Chapter Two.

The problem for me starts with Rothschild’s description of Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which occupies two pages in the chapter. She summarizes PVT as being the discovery of the “ventral vagus” function as distinct from the previously-known “dorsal vagus” function, which is the foundation of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Both down-regulate the heart, but in different ways. She states that calm states arise from the ventral branch, and that collapse states arise from the dorsal branch. This is not all wrong, but for a person of Rothschild’s immense professional stature, I was really hoping for more.


I am, admittedly and unabashedly, enthusiastic about Stephen Porges’ work. I’ve attended his workshops, learned his process for measuring heart rate variability as an indicator of vagal tone, interviewed him for several articles published in this magazine, and have read his books and articles. This review is clearly biased. And with that said, I will offer my honest opinions and not side step points that for some may or may not be considered 100 percent positive.

For those new to Porges’ work, he is noted as the originator of the Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which is his perspective of how our autonomic nervous system, dependent on phylogenetic transitions/shifts that occurred between reptiles and mammals, resulted in specific adaptations in vagal pathways regulating the heart, which in turn impact our lives.


Elizabeth E. Bader’s recent publication, The Psychology and Neurobiology of Mediation (in The Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution) is now available for SPT Readers. Elizabeth looks at mediation in terms of the nervous system’s response to threat and challenge (what she calls the IDR cycle–inflation, deflation, and realistic resolution). She explores the links between the psychological and neurobiological dimensions of mediation and integrates the work of Stephen Porges (Polyvagal Theory) and Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing). She notes a distinct feature of mediation is that those involved experience both threat and safety responses simultaneously.


Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory has become synonymous with social engagement and our threat-versus-safety survival mechanism. His work continues to evolve, the reach of his content foundational for many studies and methodologies. And now, a song!