Skip to content

Deb Dana video: Why Therapy Starts (or Ends) with the Therapist’s Nervous System

Deb Dana on befriending our own nervous systems, what to do if we arrive for a session feeling dysregulated – and the real reason she believes some clients suddenly leave therapy.

Online Course! Polyvagal Theory with Deb Dana & Stephen Porges

“The nervous system always knows”, says Deb Dana.

In other words, we can’t ‘trick’ ourselves into being present for a client if we are feeling dysregulated.

And if we are feeling dysregulated, we can’t ‘trick’ a client into experiencing us as present.

Through a process that Polyvagal Theory terms neuroception, our nervous systems are always listening for background cues of safety or danger – inside us, outside us, and between us. In this one-hour interview, the pioneer of Polyvagal Theory discusses what this means for the responsibility of the therapist, the experience of the traumatised client, and our understanding of why some clients might suddenly leave therapy.

Deb also shares the approach she takes if she arrives for a client session feeling dysregulated.

We can’t always avoid having ‘a messy morning’ before we meet a client. It’s what we do next that will make all the difference.

From a polyvagal perspective, a primary aim of therapy is to help the client move up out of a dysregulated state – a shut-down ‘dorsal vagal’ state of numbness or hopelessness, or a hyperaroused ‘sympathetic state’ of disorganised energy – and return to ‘ventral vagal’. This is the biological seat of safety and connectedness from which, crucially for therapy, we are able to reflect, to learn, and ultimately to change.

As Deb emphasises, this process starts not with the client’s nervous system but with the therapist’s.

Only when we are anchored in a state of calm and connection can we extend a true, ‘autonomic welcome’ to our clients. Only when we can accurately identify the state of our own nervous system can we communicate congruently – and help our clients make sense, in the moment, of their own autonomic responses.

In this video, Deb shares some simple strategies for befriending our own nervous systems (and helping our clients do the same).

We hear how to start by identifying our own resonant words for ‘safety’ and ‘danger’.

We find out how to gently introduce a drop of energy into a shut-down nervous system.

And we learn how the Polyvagal Ladder can interface with another popular clinical tool, the Window of Tolerance.

Watch the free video to learn direct from the woman who has pioneered the clinical application of Polyvagal Theory – and to discover Deb’s guiding question for anyone who wants to use a polyvagal approach.


Blog Editor

The PESI UK Blog: our lively editorial platform, serving you with enriching and engaging reads from world-leading therapists, psychologists and other key voices several times a week.

Related Blog Posts

Here are some similar posts that may interest you.