Connection Focused Therapy: A Polyvagal Informed Approach

  Connection focused Therapy is a Polyvagal informed treatment approach. Every aspect of the therapy is designed and intended to support one’s perception of the world around them. It is not as complicated as it sounds. Basically, we all strive to feel safe, as in a sense of security, and connected with each other and the world around us. Connection focused therapy emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact we all have on each other and the importance of disconfirming beliefs and assumptions we have each made about our ability to feel safe, secure and resilient in an ever changing world.

     At the core of our work is connections. We have found that experiential activities such as hiking, cooking together, playing games allows for powerful important connections. Animals, especially horses, are incorporated into the treatment and trainings to help underscore the importance of curiosity, compassion and communication. In Polyvagal terms co-regulation is an important goal. Co-regulation is, in its simplest terms, the impact our nervous systems have on us, on each other and the importance of mutual regulation.      

     For some individuals who come to our trainings and workshops, horses may provide the conduits for connection. For or others, it is the other participants or the environment in which we work.

What is Connection Focused Therapy: A Poly Vagal Informed Approach? 

     In a nut shell, Connection Focused therapy is the concept of an approach that was result of collaboration between Dr. Rebecca Bailey and Linda Kohanov. It embodies our lives’ work and belief that individuals can put traumatic events behind them and move forward. Moving forward means understanding internal road blocks that can keep us stuck, in a state of fight or flight, so that we are able to move forward and problem solve. Awareness of the role of the nervous system and its impact on the narrative the brain develops is a new and exciting way of understanding how people can get stuck and isolated. 

     In 2012 Dr. Bailey attended a training with Dr. Stephen Porges. His introduction of the vagus nerve’s impact on the nervous systems awareness helped put words to what previously were concepts incorporated into the treatment approach and environment utilized by Dr. Bailey and associates at Transitioning Families . In particular Dr. Porges’ word Neoroception resonated. Neoroception is the felt sense of safety and security we all seek in order to be able to have positive relationships with each other. 

Is Connection Focused Therapy right for me?

  This is a highly client centered approach. Thirty years of experience, listening to individuals and families describe their desire to “feel safe”, “at peace”, and ‘’connected” has lead us to believe that you can move forward. Complex cases of abduction survivors and other victims of crimes and/or trauma often share the same language of feeling ‘stuck”,” unable to “problem solve” and “isolated”. Each story included a description of an internal state as well as an external reason. However, some of these same themes came through loud and clear with other less complex cases. We would hear over and over an expression of a perceived lack of feeling safe and comfortable in the world. This therapeutic approach is not for everyone. It is interactive and collaborative with the client. 

Is it evidence based? 

A great deal of research has gone into Dr. Porges’ PolyVagal theory. It was originally intended for the research community and has been cited in thousands of research articles. However, his theory resonated with a number of therapists who have treated complex cases (trauma). Porges’ wife and colleague Sue Carter has added much to the field in her research on Oxytocin. Their research helped apply a new understanding to the experiences and populations we work with at the Transitioning Families program. It underscored the importance of social connection and co-regulation to health, growth and restoration. Clinicians utilizing Connection focused therapy as a treatment approach must be apprised of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), DBT( Dialect Behavioral Therapy) and Family Systems Therapy as well as the role of the greater environment on the nervous system. Experiential components are an important part of the approach. In particular is the equine therapy and the premises and work of Linda Kahonov( Epona) . This work includes the understanding of emotional contagiousness and the impact of the horse and human’s nervous system on each other. We look forward to future studies that might look at the long term efficacy of our work. We are hoping to better understand the possibility of supporting and implementing protocols to assist individuals to move towards full integration and connection.