Theraplay Events

Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Applying Polyvagal Theory Principles to Play Therapy/Child Psychotherapy as Illustrated by Theraplay® Assessment, Planning and Treatment Examples

September 23, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 12:15 pm CDT

Register Here

3 CEs
*CEs only available for those licensed in the US
**This live webinar will be recorded

Applying Polyvagal Theory Principles to Play Therapy/Child Psychotherapy as Illustrated by Theraplay® Assessment, Planning and Treatment Examples

Presented by Sandra Lindaman, MA, LCSW, LISW-CP

Would you like to understand Polyvagal Theory (PVT) better and know how it can help you in your work with children and caregivers? Most presentations about PVT focus on adult treatment, despite the fact that it is early experiences that create the felt sense of safety or defense. It is critical for all play therapy child and caregiver clients to feel safe and to be able to co-regulate; this is especially true for clients who have sustained trauma. This presentation will clarify the main points of PVT, show you the impact of physiological state on the child and caregiver client and detail how PVT concepts can be used more intentionally to strengthen your play therapy. Video and literature clinical examples of clients presenting issues of medical trauma, traumatic loss, orphanage care and adoption, dysregulation, autism, selective mutism, and parenting difficulties will illustrate assessment, planning and treatment advice.

PVT has been described as an important component in play therapy (Kestly, 2016, Daniel, Masters & Donovan, 2018). The play therapy model used in illustrations in this presentation is Theraplay®, one of nine clinical theories recognized as foundational to play therapy practice (Booth & Lindaman, 2019). Theraplay consists of four components: Establishing safety and arousal regulation, Enhancing caregiver-child attachment, Working directly with the caregivers and the Practitioner’s use of self (Lindaman, Hong, Maxonight & Peacock, in press). This combination of therapeutic actions has been shown to be effective in working with children and caregivers (Salo,, 2020). This presentation will focus on the first component of establishing safety and regulation. As noted above, it is critical for all Theraplay child and caregiver clients to feel safe and to be able to co-regulate. The actions suggested by PVT are consistent with the modifications of Theraplay already suggested for clients with trauma (Booth & Jernberg, 2010). The PVT concepts offer an additional, helpful lens through which to assess, plan and treat clients. There is a strong coherence between 1. the physiological safe states described in Polyvagal Theory: social engagement, polyvagal play, rest and digest, and movement between these states and 2. Theraplay’s focus on social engagement (Engagement), reciprocal and physical play (Challenge/Play), nurturing care (Nurture) and guided movements between play and care activities (Structure) (Lindaman & Makela, 2018). This presentation will fill in the details and value of this coherence, describing what PVT means by “safety”; the development and action of the social engagement system; PVT’s recommended progression from social engagement to proximity to touch and then to trusting relationships; the value of states of “polyvagal play” and “rest and digest”; and the development of regulation and resilience.

Required Pre-Reading:

Geller, S.M. & Porges, S.W. (2014). Therapeutic presence: Neurophysiological mechanisms mediating feeling safe in therapeutic relationships. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24, 3, 178-192.

Recommended Pre-Reading:

Lindaman, S. & Mäkelä, J. (2018). The Polyvagal Foundation of Theraplay Treatment: Combining Social Engagement, Play and Nurture to Create Safety, Regulation and Resilience.

  1. Porges & D. Dana (Eds.)Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal Informed Therapies. NY: W.W. Norton & Company.


  • Describe six physiological states described in Polyvagal Theory and their significance for play therapy.
  • Describe how the sequence of a play therapy session can be planned and carried out to maximize client safety, social engagement and regulation.
  • Describe the 4 components of the Theraplay model and how PVT concepts influence these Theraplay process components.
  • Describe how the observations of dyadic Structure, Engagement, Nurture and Challenge routinely made in the Theraplay assessment of caregiver-child interaction (the Marschak Interaction Method) also correspond to PVT concepts of safety, social engagement, arousal status, proximity and contact, polyvagal play, soothing, and co-regulatory abilities.
  • Describe PVT related responses to 4 possible problems in Theraplay treatment: retraction of the client’s social engagement system, client active or frozen mobilization, client shut down, and client rejection of nurture.


Sandra Lindaman is a Certified Theraplay® Therapist, Supervisor and Trainer, and the Senior Training Advisor for The Theraplay® Institute in Evanston, Illinois, USA. She has a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University-Chicago, and completed a one year clinical externship in the Family Systems Program at the Institute for Juvenile Research, University of Illinois-Chicago. She also has a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Northwestern University and worked in that field for many years. She has been with The Theraplay® Institute since 1990, served as Executive Director from 1993 to 1999, and currently serves on our business development, research and training committees. She co-authored three chapters in the 2009 third edition of Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships Through Attachment-Based Play, and has published a number of other chapters and articles about Theraplay. Sandra has been very involved in the training and supervision of professionals in the Theraplay model throughout the United States, Canada, England, Finland, Japan, South Korea and Sweden. In 2004 she received the Ann M. Jernberg award for outstanding contribution to Theraplay.


Flores, P.J. & Porges, S.W. (2017). Group psychotherapy as a neural exercise: Bridging Polyvagal Theory and Attachment Theory. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 67 (2), 202-222.

Kestly, T.A. (2016). Presence and Play: Why Mindfulness Matters. International Journal of
Play Therapy. 25(1), 14-23.

Muris, P & Ollendick, T.H. (2015). Children Who are Anxious in Silence: A Review on
Selective Mutism, the New Anxiety Disorder in DSM-5. Clinical Child and Family
Psychology Review, 18(2), 151-169.

Porges, S. W. (2015a). Making the world safe for our children: down-regulating defence and up-regulating social engagement to ‘optimise’ the human experience. Children Australia, 40, pp 114-123.

Porges, S. W. (2015b) Play as a neural exercise: Insights from the Polyvagal Theory. The Power of Play for Mind Brain Health, 3-7.


9:00-10:30Lecture & Video about the FOUR COMPONENTS OF THERAPLAY AND ABOUT THE following PVT concepts and how they appear in Theraplay: neuroception, safety, the social engagement system, the progression from SES to trusting relationships, the state of polyvagal play, the state of rest and digest, passive and active phases of treatment, moving between states. Still photos and video of non-clinical caregiver-child dyads and 2 CLINICAL EXAMPLES OF THERAPLAY ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENT PLANNING will be shown to illustrate the above.


10:45-12:00 – Lecture, video and clinical stories about using PVT concepts in the Theraplay treatment planning, and problem solving in treatment sessions FOR A THIRD CLINICAL EXAMPLE. 

12:00-12:15Questions and answers with the participants. Brainstorming about future research and publication about PVT and Theraplay.

There is no conflict of interest or commercial support for this program.

This is a non-contact live virtual webinar.

Visit our FAQs here for cancellation policies


September 23, 2020
9:00 am - 12:15 pm CDT
Event Category:



Search for: