CDT’s Education and Training Committee, chaired by Carol Mapp, devised a ingenious way to bring continuing education to our members during a time when going to seminars and trainings has been limited by the Covid pandemic. On April 6th, members of CDT were treated to the first of a series of free Lunch and Learn presentations. This one was skillfully reported by our own Jennifer Leister and Melinda Eitzen along with Charissa Fry, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Sunnyvale. The presentation was titled, Understanding the Polyvagal Theory (and how it affects your client & what to do about it).
Most attendees did not know much, if anything, about Polyvagal Theory before their lecture and it was immediately clear that knowledge of this, learning what a person’s triggers are and how they respond to those triggers could enable us to do a better job of helping our clients (and could also be of benefit to all of us in our personal and professional lives). The speakers began with a basic lesson on what the vagus nerve is, what it does, and that it is a part of our parasympathetic nervous system which is a part of our autonomic nervous system. Understanding the polyvagal theory has helped therapists heal trauma and restore health to their patients’ nervous system. It is immediately apparent how polyvagal theory can be an invaluable tool in our collaborative cases. Being familiar with polyvagal theory can aid in the identification of what a person’s body instinctively does to protect him or her. Recognizing this can be the first step to realizing what to do to help that person.
The polyvagal theory provides us with information about how our clients might connect with others, how they respond to threats and how they regulate their bodies. We all know what it is like to feel safe, in control, to be able to problem solve and focus on what we need to be doing. Likewise, we all know what it is like when we do not feel safe. The speakers gave direction to recognizing “safety” cues from our clients. We learned what it looks like to be in a “hyperarousal state” – a state of mobilization. This could demonstrated by a wide variety of behaviors from yelling, being defensive, being too energetic - pacing, panicked, angry – the “fight or flight” responses. Other people might respond by freezing, by being in a “hypoarousal state”. This is described as dissociative, having avoidance behaviors, being sad, discouraged, quiet, blank, being checked out, flat, shutting down, having no energy, being exhausted and unmotivated. We need to learn how to recognize when our client is in one of these states. We need to prepare them that this might happen so we can help pull them back to feeling safe enough to problem solve and so they do not make decisions when they are in one of these states.
I most certainly know that I need to learn more about this theory to not only understand it better but to know what to do to be a better collaborative professional, a better colleague, a better spouse, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. The biggest lesson I took away from this was that I do not know enough, and I need to keep learning. I need to become aware of not only my clients’ responses but my own, my team members and those of my loved ones. A sincere thank you to Melinda, Jennifer and Charissa for being willing to share their knowledge with all of us.