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Strengthen your Theraplay Assessment and Play Therapy Skills Through the Use of Polyvagal Theory Concepts

July 22, 2020 @ 8:00 am - 10:15 am CDT

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2 CEs
*CEs only available for those licensed in the US
This live webinar will NOT recorded**
Due to some additions to tomorrow’s presentation we will no longer be able to record this session. The video content needed to demonstrate some of the material does not have permission to be recorded. We hope this will not deter you from enjoying the presentation of “Strengthen your Theraplay Assessment and Play Therapy Skills Through the Use of Polyvagal Theory Concepts”
If this affects you in any way or if you have any questions contact [email protected] before 7.22 at 7:00am CDT

Strengthen your Theraplay Assessment and Play Therapy Skills Through the Use of Polyvagal Theory Concepts

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

Would you like to understand Polyvagal Theory (PVT) better and know how it can help you in your Theraplay work? This presentation will clarify the main points of PVT, show you how it exists already in your Theraplay, and detail how PVT concepts can be used more intentionally to strengthen your work. 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 presentation will focus on the components of establishing safety and regulation. It is critical for all Theraplay child and caregiver clients to feel safe and to be able to co-regulate; this is especially true for clients who have sustained trauma. The actions suggested by PVT are consistent with the play therapy 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 in play therapy. 

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. We will examine the Theraplay process for PVT concepts by looking at play therapy treatment videos. Sandra will share ideas for incorporating PVT concepts into Theraplay assessment, planning, and play therapy treatment via clinical examples and discussion.


  • Describe six physiological states described in Polyvagal Theory and their significance for Theraplay play therapy treatment
  • Describe how the observations of dyadic Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge routinely made in the Theraplay play therapy 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 how the sequence of a Theraplay session can be planned and carried out to maximize client safety, social engagement, and regulation in play therapy treatment
  • 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.


8:00-9:00 Lecture & video 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 Theraplay treatment will be shown to illustrate the above.

9:00-9:15 Break

9:15-10:00 Lecture, video and clinical stories about using PVT concepts in the MIM assessment, Theraplay treatment planning, and problem solving in treatment sessions.

10:00-10:15 Questions 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.

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Download CE information here

For those seeking CEs, participants will receive an email from R. Cassidy Seminars within a few days of the conclusion of the Summer Learning Institute. Upon completion of the course evaluation, the certificate of completion will be made available.


July 22, 2020
8:00 am - 10:15 am CDT
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