E1: Understanding the Body’s Response to Stress and Trauma-The Polyvagal Theory

Area of Focus: Brain Science and Trauma-Informed Approaches
Room Location: Key 12

Participants will gain a deep understanding of polyvagal theory and how it applies to restoring balance in the autonomic nervous system. Functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems will be discussed to support trauma and resilience practitioners in understanding what sensory experiences will be most supportive. In addition, participants will learn how to activate the social engagement system to help chronically stressed or trauma-exposed children regulate their nervous system. Most stressed and traumatized people focus immediately on negative inner states, which increases fear reactions. The underpinning of the polyvagal theory encourages the drawing of attention to positive, non-aversive inner states, helping to bring the autonomic nervous system into a less fearful state. Participants will gain both an understanding of the physiological principles of trauma and stress in addition to practical interventions to help.

Learning Objectives

  • Name and describe the two branches of the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Discuss the polyvagal theory as it relates to trauma and resilience
  • Identify at least three examples of interventions for youth that can be used in response to crisis and/or for psychological first aid


Kathy Hart
Senior Trainer and Program Consultant
Starr Commonwealth

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