Clinical Conversations

This summer, I participated in a webinar hosted by Unyte Health called Clinical Conversations: Exploring Polyvagal Theory, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) with Dr. Stephen Porges and Dr. Tina Bryson.

In this session, Dr. Porges, author of Polyvagal Theory and creator of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), was in conversation with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, NY Times Bestselling Author, clinician, SSP Provider, and mom to three boys.

Over the years as an educator, I have learned the importance of our behaviors honoring our nervous system. I became a Student Life Coach, focusing on the study of Being, which was incredibly important to me. The study of interpersonal neurobiology and the SSP was why I wanted to engage further.

Drs. Porges and Bryson examined the power of neuroception—the neural circuits that allow our bodies to tell us whether an environment is safe or dangerous. This is powerful as it occurs outside our conscious thought, making it challenging to build effective coping strategies for our desired outcomes.

Yet, if we can teach our youth to be aware of their bodies at an earlier age by providing them the tools to learn how to observe, look, see, and tell the truth, then we may use the tools effectively in practicing our skills to take authentic action. We can apply any theory or skill when we are safe and sound, as both experts emphasized to the professional community. 

The brain is adaptable and teachable at any stage in life. If we coach students on how to be aware and listen to their bodies, to communicate with them as a powerful tool, we may have more success toward healing, as it is the function of our health and wellness. In that case, we may witness a transformation from within ourselves, allowing us to create and operate the next set of tools for proper treatment and support. 

The Student’s Toolbox for Success is a journey that starts with learning and listening to one’s body as a primary tool for survival. I am researching and highlighting my experiences and the connection between the body and mind for my book on teen self-support. The social-emotional lives of teens have meaning at a time when we are living with technological advancement and shifting our focus to the soul and body for answers first, followed by the advancement of psychological support and treatments. 

As a purpose-driven educator, when Dr. Porges said in the presentation to more than 5,000 participants worldwide, “We don’t know what the world could be like if we were safe enough to be who we are,” this resonated with me. The student’s health and wellness before connection and learning have been the center of my life’s work. An “educational first responder,” the title I gave myself years ago facing wildfires and the pandemic as an educator, made it clear to me that neuroception was essential to understanding and integrating support for the Student’s Journey. 

I wrote Understanding Me: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Managing Her Neurodiversity with Grit & Grace, a self-support guide for teens and young adults that is kind, responsible, research-based, and focused on the Student’s Journey. I wanted to learn more about treatment and its effectiveness, as many students have access to support. Yet, knowing the importance of our body and what is communicated to us about our safety and level of security depends on so much more: the roots of our central nervous system. 

Suppose we do not allow our children to learn how to listen to their bodies and be kind and familiar with the signals our bodies will naturally communicate to us. In that case, we do not know how to fully engage in a respectful path forward, treating our bodies and minds with compassion and care. Our body helps communicate our safety or defense (i.e., illness, surgery, our biology is disrupted), leading to our vulnerability (safe to be willing to learn and practice new tools for clarity, focus, ease, and grace), which opens the space for healing and growth. 

It is reasonable to say that all adults living today have experienced childhood trauma. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) data shared showed that 1 in 6 adults have four types of ACEs (out of 10). The CDC further reported that 61% of adults have had at least one adverse childhood experience before age 18. Today, we know about the power of trauma-informed treatment, supported by the research that shows that we need to be safe enough to be safe in the arms of another to feel and have a human connection as our support system, one of life’s six energies: Support. 

Dr. Porges continued, “We need to support our children to learn how to sit in a safe body, and to do that, we need to build awareness.”  As a Student Life Coach and former school learning specialist, I believe building strength-based skills that include awareness is essential to one’s modern-day coping strategies, also known as Modern Life Skills for Teens. 

The presentation was purposeful as he illustrated further that our foundations of safety have ‘systems’ and systems are made of people to support YOU. Dr. Porges and Dr. Bryson spoke to me as a Life Coach committed to the Student’s Journey.  The merging founders, Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Seigel (circa 2005), introduced to us the importance of interpersonal and neurobiology, the brain’s power on our nervous system and relationships. 

We need to build tools and practice skills to:

  • Honor the wisdom of my body.
  • Use the power of energy to read my body. 
  • Be aware that the brain can change throughout the lifespan. 
  • We need tools that will work across the lifespan.

Bringing the body into psychotherapy was a turning point; a new focus on mindfulness and meditation, developed our spirituality and well-being skills with safety and security. 

Drs. Porges and Bryson were clear about the ideas of interpersonal neurobiology, including the mind, brain, and interpersonal relationships in the context of the SSP through a deep dive of neuroception and regulation. The nervous system was a discussion with various professionals in the mental health field that highlighted the impact of clients’ interactions with their environment, social relationships, and the embodiment of both, respectively. There was a lot of wisdom shared by Drs. Porges & Bryson, as a joint community, and it confirmed so much of what I knew already to be true.

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