An Interview with Dr Stephen Porges on the Polyvagal Theory

Prof. Stephen Porges , Deborah Gould

Dr Porges? area of interest over the last 10 years has been the evolution of the vagus nerve and its role in facilitating survival as well as social engagement. He proposes (in a theory he terms the Polyvagal Theory) that the vagus nerve has evolved in particular ways in mammals to facilitate social connection. This is partly accomplished through the enervation of facial and vocal structures.
However, trauma has the capacity to activate the more primitive branch where survival overrides the higher functions of social engagement. The regulation of heart rate, respiration and so on occurs at the expense of connecting with others. An interview with Stephen interestingly titled ?Don?t Talk to me I?m Scanning for Danger? sums up this argument. It is worth noting that this person is in a catch 22 ? unable to engage because of neurological imperatives and thus robbed of opportunities for healing through engagement.

Conflit of interest: none disclosed
Recorded at the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)
August 2008, New South Wales, Australia.
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Stephen Porges
Stephen Porges
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An Interview with Dr. Stephen Porges Stephen Porges 15'36"
An Interview with Dr. Stephen Porges Stephen Porges

Prof. Stephen Porges

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Brain-Body Center in the Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine, University of Illinois in Chicago. He is former President of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Social Sciences and the Society for Psychophysiological Research. Dr. Porges is a neuroscientist with particular interests in understanding the neurobiology of social behaviour.

His research focuses on how the autonomic nervous system relates to adaptive behaviour, state regulation, and social engagement strategies. His research crosses disciplines and he has published in such diverse disciplines as anesthesiology, critical care medicine, ergonomics, exercise physiology, gerontology, neurology, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, psychology, space medicine, and substance abuse.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the vertebrate autonomic nervous system to the emergence of social behaviour. The theory provides insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioural, psychiatric, and physical disorders. His research is leading to new protocols to assess clinical disorders and innovative interventions designed to stabilize behavioural and psychological states and to stimulate spontaneous social behaviour.

Deborah Gould

Deb Gould is a Clinical Psychologist and clinical supervisor and has worked at STARTTS since 1998. She trained in South Africa as a General Nurse and Midwife before changing course, qualifying as a clinical psychologist in 1988. Prior to moving to Australia in 1998, she worked in academic and community settings in the Western Cape and Gauteng Province where she was Senior Clinical Psychologist at Community Paediatric Services. In her role as a therapist and clinical supervisor at STARTTS over the past 17 years, she has been involved in reflection on and treatment of a great number and variety of refugee clients. She draws inspiration, knowledge and skill from her colleagues and clients and hopes to impart some of this in her presentations.

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