The Importance of Social Engagement for Therapy
Polyvagal theory is based on the notion that our physiological and emotional states determine how we operate in the world. People who have very sensitive nervous systems, such as those who suffer from trauma, anxiety, and hypersensitivity can have a very difficult time feeling attuned and focused in social interactions.
This ability to feel safe with others is mediated by the vagus nerve which is part of the autonomic nervous system. Stephen Porges named this the Social Engagement System (SES) which refers to this part of the nervous system that picks up non-conscious cues about whether a person or situation is safe or not. It is always operating, which is great in the sense that it keeps us alive. On the other hand, it can be exhausting for those whose nervous systems are highly sensitive and are constantly hypervigilant to potential threats, even when they are completely safe.
SSP trains the SES to feel safe and regulated through the auditory system which is a portal to rest of the autonomic nervous system and the ability to feel grounded and present, even when under stress. When clients learn to feel safe, they are able to process human speech, and the nuances of emotional communication. This improves the ability to manage their state, regulate emotions, and engage in interpersonal communication more effectively.
Therapy is based on a safe and attuned relationship with another person but sometimes it can take years of therapy for some people to integrate the ability to feel self regulated in a lasting way. SSP enhances therapy by focusing on the training of physiological state thereby creating a neural platform that improves emotion regulation and accelerates the lasting changes that people seek in therapy.