Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

MA - Master of Arts


Expressive Therapies


Sarah Hamil, Ph.D., LCSW, RPT-S, ATR-BC


The polyvagal theory has exerted great influence on the field of clinical therapy since the 1990s by proposing an understanding of the psychological expression seen in clients as a reflection of their physiological state of safety or threat of danger. When affect and psychological states are viewed through the lens of the autonomic nervous system directed by neuroception through bidirectional vagal nerve information, therapeutic presence and somatic therapy practices, such as those utilized in the field of dance/movement therapy, become more conceivable as best practices to treat a variety of psychological conditions to include trauma recovery, autism spectrum disorders, and depression. By engaging in dance/movement therapy techniques clients gain body awareness, regain trust in integrating their body’s sensory information through interoception, strengthen affect regulation, express emotions and access implicit memories through non-verbal expression. By activating the reciprocal nature of the social engagement system, clients gain social skills and build on the positive experiences of social engagement. Polyvagal theory provides a consistent measurable foundation from which to practice embodied therapies with a variety of populations.

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