How Can Polyvagal Theory be so Wrong and yet Useful in Therapy?
Inaccurate science leads to better therapy - Aligning Psychology and Therapy to Science (no more false prophecies) - Does it pass the Evolutionary Test? - Imagining Emotional States as Biological Systems - Admitting our Scientific Ignorance; Where is the First Brain? Do mammals have 3 Brains?- New challenge to Psychology; Embodied Cognitive Science & Affective Neuroscience - Next Horizons Affective Embodied Therapy & Social Psychology
Polyvagal theory is currently racing through the trauma informed therapy circles like wildfire.
Is there another type of therapy? What about people who do not see their life challenge as related to trauma, who do they talk with?
This blog is an outsiders critique of polyvagal theory using Evolutionary Social Psychology, Affective Neuroscience, and Embodied Cognitive Science to show where the holes are. There are plenty in this Swiss Cheese-like theory yet the therapeutic practices that stem from it are effective. What is going on? What does polyvagal theory mean for the fields of psychology, Art Therapy, and Expressive Arts Therapy?
What polyvagal gets right
Then I ask, why is it useful? Therapies that come from this theory are useful. If the science is wrong what is right about polyvagal theory, and more importantly what is contributing to the therapy's efficacy?
How many brains does a mammal have?
We will begin with evolution and ponder, "Do mammals have 3 or 4 brain systems? Is the CNS a metabrain system?" What are the consequences of Evolutionary Science, virology, genetics, and the Synaptome project to psychotherapy?
Radical, non-stigmatizing approach to Mental Wellness
Affective Neuroscience and Embodied Cognitive Science offer a systems approach to the biology that erases the body/mind divide and removes stigma from physical and psychological differences.
What is coming
Humility is needed to move medicine, psychology, and education forward. Traditional, social knowledge and systems are currently being challenged. Affective Embodied Psychology could break the grip that homeostasis, the preservation of a set standard conditions that must be maintained to keep the organism alive, has had on psychology and usher in a new era of therapies, education methods, urban planning, and more.
Blowing Polyvagal Theory
Out of the Water & Inattentive Tremors
Polyvagal theory claims that a system in the deep brain can turn off fight, flight or faint behavioural and biological responses. The therapies that arise from this theory focus on turning on the vagus system to bring healing by using the body's system. Trauma damages this system resulting in a deregulation of this system.
It is a fancy science explanation that, to my knowledge, has not been replicated, identified, or studied in animals. That is neither here nor there as to why this theory deserves scrutiny. The main problem with polyvagal theory it is reductionist. Polyvagal theory proposes that one system balances three major evolutionary behaviours - fight, flight, and faint, that are common to all living things. Mother Nature builds organisms with multiple fail safes, recovery strategies. An organism balanced by one system is too fragile to be evolutionary viable.
A few years ago, I thought I discovered a synaptic loop (a pathway that neurons take) that contribute to tics and OCD. Then I remembered that no one thing is responsible for an entire behaviour, attentive or inattentive. A tic that goes away when attention is called to it, "Hey Bob, your hand is trembling", is an inattentive tremor. For example, Bob looks at his hand and the tremor stops. This is an inattentive tremor - it happens when you aren't paying attention. However, if Bob's hand trembles even when he tries to control it, then it a different type of symptom. Which of these two does the magic synaptic loop influences tic behaviour? I don't know, I'm an Expressive Arts coach not a neuroscientist.
What I know is that psychology is about changing symptoms. Crying, not eating, wandering aimlessly are all symptoms of Depression. Therapy teaches clients to manage symptoms. Therapy assumes that better symptom management improves quality of life. Are Depression symptoms like Bob's tremor, they happen when you aren't paying attention. After my son died, I would start crying while grocery shopping. Looking at jam, thinking about toast, smelling the bakery behind me, totally enjoying the moment and boom, tears. It was a grief symptom that waited for my attention to be turned away and like a toddler it would run wild. Crying jags appear to be an inattentive symptom of grief. Common sense tells me that all the things in the DSM need to be examined for attentive and inattentive symptoms to create better therapeutic plans.
Evolution - Reusing Existing Things to Live in Our Environment with Greater Ease and Success
Nature is stingy. Why create a new thing when this thing can be rejigged to serve this purpose?