The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges after forty years of research about the role of the Vagus nerve and its connection to the signaling danger or safety in our autonomic nervous system. Dr. Porges developed the Polyvagal Theory to help us understand these important brain/body connections and how the Vagus nerve stimulates our physiological perceptions of feeling unsafe and defensive or calm and relaxed and ready to engage socially. Through Dr. Porges’ deep understanding of trauma and how we can get stuck with a defensive reaction to living in this world he discovered the role of the muscle of the middle ear to adjust to our perceptions of danger or safety. Thankfully Dr. Porges also understood that the brain has neural plasticity or the ability to change old patterns. This led him to develop the Safe and Sound Protocol which is the listening program which helps to improve our neural programming. Given the right stimulation our brain can be assisted to shift out of old patterns of becoming defensive and frees us to engage in more positive ways socially.
SSP is a five day, an hour a day auditory intervention designed to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity while enhancing social engagement and resilience. SSP involves listening to female vocal music that has been specifically processed so that the middle ear muscles are trained and exercised to focus on the frequency range of the human voice. This stimulates nervous system regulation by exercising and systematically challenging the auditory system with safe sounds. When a person is calmer this allows them to better interpret not only human speech but importantly the emotional meaning of language. The result is improved social communication and behavioral regulation. Once interpersonal interactions improve, spontaneous social behaviors are enhanced as the person feels safer to engage with others. Also, with better listening skills comes an enhanced ability to focus and learn. As the person is better able to regulate their emotional state, they develop more confidence and satisfaction with their life. This provides a better foundation for doing any emotional counselling or to train the brain with NeurOptimal Neurofeedback.
The SSP is a research-based therapy which shows significant results in just five days in the following areas.
Improved social engagement such as eye contact and initiating social interactions
Decrease in auditory sensitivities (loud noises) and improved listening ability
Improved emotional regulation & reduction in anxiety and trauma related challenges
Improved attention and focusing
How would someone recognize whether they needed to use the SSP program? Below are some clues:
- If you have experienced traumas which have created negative coping strategies
- If you have trouble feeling grounded and calm
- If you have auditory hypersensitivity
- If you have emotional regulation problems such as feeling numb or the opposite which is feeling angry with big outbursts
- If you have problems understanding and processing human speech
- If you have an inability to sit still and focus
- If you have anxiety or difficulty feeling safe especially in social situations
- If you have health challenges and long term digestive issues
Effective Processing and Regulation are the Foundation for Health
We can’t necessarily control external situations or obstacles that face us in any given moment but we can change how our brain and body respond to them. As we change our responses to external situations, everything gets better: we’re sharper, more confident, better able to navigate social situations, and feel happier and more peaceful. By calming the physiological and emotional state, the door is opened for improved emotional regulation and communication and more successful therapy.
Recommendations for use of the Safe and Sound Protocol with adolescents or adults:
Since the SSP program requires listening to the specialized music five days in a row, I have rental units which can be taken home for use at home. It would be helpful to have one counselling session before trying the unit for home use to allow me to go over details of its operation. If you are over the age of thirteen and have experienced significant trauma, you may feel more comfortable to do the SSP program within the safety of the therapeutic relationship. This may increase your feelings of safety when you have me or another caring adult available while listening in case you become anxious or triggered to feel more vulnerable. While listening you may want to do some other activities which do not take a lot of thinking such as knitting, coloring a mandala, relaxing with something which keeps your hands busy but still allows active listening. Being on your phone or computer is not recommended. A quiet environment while listening is helpful to the regulation of your autonomic nervous system. If you have further questions don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Recommendations for use of the Safe and Sound Protocol with children:
Younger children generally can do the listening program five days in a row in the home with a safe, attentive caregiver. Children can hold a stuffy, do puzzles, draw, play with play dough, build with Legos, or play a quiet card game while they are listening to the music. It is important for them to be in a calm and positive environment for the hour so they can do active listening. Singing along to the music is not recommended since it may block their ability to hear the frequencies of the music. If an hour listening session is too long, the session could be broken up into two half hour sessions in the same day. A snack of soft foods is fine but avoid crunchy foods which might block the important sounds. A quiet environment while listening is helpful. Staying engaged and connected to your child in positive ways while he/she is listening is important. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to speak to me.
The rental cost for the headphones and I pod for a week to 10 days is $300 plus HST or $339.