Home Book Reviews The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling...

The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe


Written by Stephen W. Porges

Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn

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.

Scaling down to its bare roots, at least how I interpret what I’m reading, PVT considers our ability to regulate our visceral state in the presence of others, our ability to read our body’s signals and respond (challenging Descartes subjugation of bodily feelings to cognitive function), and immobilization without fear (which “requires the co-opting of the neural pathways involved in ‘immobilization with fear’ with features of the social engagement system and neuropeptides, such as oxytocin” (pg. 243). The heart and soul of PVT is safety and trust.

“As the source nuclei of the primary efferent vagal efferent pathways regulating the heart shifted from the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus in reptiles to the nucleus ambiguus in mammals, a face—heart connection evolved with emergent properties of a social engagement system that would enable social interactions to regulate visceral state” (Porges, 2009, 1).

To read the entire review, CLICK HERE

To read Chapter One from Dr Porges’ book, CLICK HERE

We offer our sincere gratitude to W.W. Norton & Company:  Chapter 1 is excerpted from The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe © 2017 by Stephen W. Porges. Used with the permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. The following is from the chapter “The Neurobiology of Feeling Safe.”

Stephen W. Porges, PhD, is Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, where he directs the Trauma 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 250 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. The theory provides insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders including autism, anxiety, depression, ADD, PTSD, and schizophrenia. His research has led to the development of innovative interventions designed to stabilize behavioral and psychological states and to stimulate spontaneous social behavior that are being applied to autism and other clinical diagnoses.



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