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Polyvagal Theory for Healthcare Providers

Course Status:


Polyvagal Theory for Healthcare Providers

CE's Available:


Cost: $





Heather Abernethy, MD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Course Overview

This self-paced course is enhanced by routinely scheduled live discussions with the instructor Dr. Abernethy. The course presents Polyvagal Theory to healthcare providers on your schedule. The course helps you understand your own nervous system fluctuations as well as read the autonomic state of your patients to help guide them to a state of safety and connection. Taught by Dr. Heather Abernethy (anesthesiologist) and Dr. Stephen Porges, the 4-hour course includes didactic teaching, a discussion with Dr. Porges, a panel discussion (with Dr. Molly McClain, family practice physician, and Dr. Alissa Greenbaum, general surgeon), and quarterly live sessions with lead instructor, Dr. Heather Abernethy. Learners finish the course with practical techniques to build resilience and avoid burnout. Students will have access to the course for 180 days from the date of purchase. 3 month payment plan is available on the registration page.


Modules 1 - 3: Three PVI lectures by Dr. Heather Abernethy The following will be accomplished over the three lecture sessions: 1. Introduce The PVT and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) 2. Discuss how we can use The PVT to help patients feel safe enough to develop a trusting relationship with us. 3. Explain how we can determine the ANS state of our patients and use that information to help them feel safe enough to move into a Ventral Vagal state. 4. Learn how to recognize your own ANS state and how to navigate among states. 5. Explain how resilience resides in the nervous system and is not a reflection of mental weakness. 6. Discuss techniques to increase flexibility of our nervous system, build resilience, and decrease burnout using various techniques such as AWE, breathing, interoception, and movement. Module 4: Physician Provider Panel (45 minutes) with previously recorded Q & A (15 minutes) Dr. Heather Abernethy (Anesthesiologist), Dr. Molly McClain (Family Practice Physician) and Dr. Alissa Greenbaum (General Surgeon) discuss how they use the PVT in their clinical practice. Dr. Abernethy and Dr. McClain discuss a “challenging” case where applying the PVT lens led to a successful and satisfying patient interaction. Dr. Greenbaum shares how she uses the PVT in medical education with general surgery residents. Module 5 Discussion with Dr. Heather Abernethy and Dr. Stephen Porges (45 minutes) with previously recorded Q & A (15 minutes) 1. How the PVT can be used for co-regulation in a medical setting and how patients benefit from this. 2. Whether co-regulation can be taught to healthcare providers. 3. Why health care providers and teams and not just patients benefit from the PVT. 4. Whether co-regulation can be taught to healthcare providers. 5. The importance of patients being involved in their care and educated about their autonomic state for health and healing. 6. Why hospital administrators benefit from knowing about the PVT and how it can improve patient and physician satisfaction and how this could improve patient outcomes. 7. The trauma of medical training and how important it is to recognize your own autonomic state when working with patients. 8. The importance for providers to understand the difference between empathy and compassion and how this applies to burnout. 9. Vagal nerve stimulation and the future of medical study on the Vagus nerve. Possibilities of where to go from here.



Recommended Audience

doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers

CE's and/or Certificate of Completion Available

Certificate of Completion upon course completion.
"Polyvagal Theory application is timely and much needed in all areas of healthcare. I'm looking forward to more courses for Healthcare Providers in the future from PVI." --Rachel Menke


Heather Abernethy, MD

Dr. Heather Abernethy is an anesthesiologist who feels at home in the operating room, but finds the greatest satisfaction, connection, and healing in listening to her patients’ fears and relief before and after surgery.

Dr. Abernethy spent 20 years supporting patients in the operating room and OB suites. She also sought treatment for PTSD, and, as a client rather than a physician, discovered the wonders of somatic (body-based) modalities for self-regulation and growth. Training in embodiment techniques like trauma release exercises and craniosacral therapy taught her to regulate her autonomic nervous system and thus be more present and empathic with her patients. She also presented the PVT to the department of anesthesiology and the operating room staff.

She envisions a future in which physicians have training and skills to receive the information their bodies are giving them and identify what they can do to find a state of compassion and curiosity. This will allow them to connect with their patients, who in turn will feel safe and empowered in their care.

Dr. Abernethy is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and lives with her two sons and their mouth-breathing French bulldog.

Heather Abernethy, MD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University where he is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium in the Kinsey Institute. He is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He served as president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences and is a former recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award. He is the originator of the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasizes the importance of physiological state in the expression of behavioral, mental, and health problems related to traumatic experiences. He is the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™ , which currently is used by approximately 3,000 therapists to improve spontaneous social engagement, to reduce hearing sensitivities, and to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement. Dr. Porges is a founder of the Polyvagal Institute.


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