Polyvagal Theory for Healthcare Providers

Course Price


Course length

4 hours

About the course

This new and unique course presents Polyvagal Theory to healthcare providers. This course will help 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 with a Q&A session, an interactive panel discussion (with Dr. Molly McClain, family practice physician, and Dr. Alissa Greenbaum, general surgeon), and practical techniques to build resilience and avoid burnout.


Each module will be held for a total of one hour starting at 5pm PT / 6pm MT / 7pm CT / 8pm ET (US & Canada)

Modules 1 and 2: November 14 and 21, 2022.

Two Live PVT Lecture by Dr. Heather Abernethy (45 minutes) with Q & A (15 minutes).

The following will be accomplished over the two lecture sessions.

  1. Introduce The PVT and the ANS

  2. Discuss how we can use The PVT to help patients feel safe and develop a trusting relationship with us.

  3. Explain how we can determine the ANS state of our patients and use that information to help move them into a Ventral Vagal State

  4. Learn how to recognize the state of your ANS and how to move among states

  5. Explain how resilience resides in the nervous system

  6. Discuss techniques to increase flexibility of our nervous system, build resilience, and decrease burnout – AWE, breathing, interoception, movement

Module 3: November 28, 2022

Live Provider Panel (45 minutes) with Q & A (15 minutes).

Dr. Heather Abernethy (anesthesiology), Dr. Molly McClain (family practice) and Dr. Alissa  Greenbaum  (general surgery) each discuss a “challenging” case where applying the PVT lens led to a successful and satisfying patient interaction.

Module 4: December  5, 2022.

Live discussion with Dr. Abernethy, Dr. McClain, and Dr. Stephen  Porges (45 minutes) with live Q & A (15 minutes).

  1. Discussing why all health care providers and not just psychologists benefit from The PVT

  2. Explaining the importance of looking at the autonomic state and function instead of end organs

  3. How to approach the patient with multiple signs/symptoms of dysautonomia – POTS, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, EDS, FAPS

  4. How to recognize medical trauma and resourcing

  5. The trauma of medical training

  6. RSA and HRV – application for healthcare workers

  7. Possibilities of where to go from here? How to support healthcare workers?

Instructor Information:


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.


Stephen W. Porges, PhD

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D. is 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 also the creator of a music-based intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol ™, which is used by therapists to improve language processing, state regulation, and spontaneous social engagement.