SSP: Safe and Sound Protocol

5 days of listening to improved social engagement

I was one of the first providers of the Safe and Sound Protocol in the United Kingdom. With hundreds of cases to my name, I work closely with iLs to share feedback, case studies and best practice.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is a five-day listening programme, which has been designed based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory. It is described by Dr Porges as a “platform for neuroplasticity”. It is a programme with over twenty years of research behind it, and is particularly suitable for those with anxiety, trauma and social/communication disorders.

The Polyvagal Theory is based on three fundamental different behaviours in humans, governed by the state of our nervous system:

  • Social engagement: a comfortable state, which controls and perceives facial expressions, varied vocal tone, regulation of perception of vocal tone and digestion
  • Fight/flight: when danger is perceived, this causes hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety
  • Freeze: when the body perceives a life-threatening situation, a person will withdraw completely or shut down

In a nutshell, the Safe and Sound Protocol consists of specially filtered music played through over-ear headphones, which encourages the social engagement system and brings a person out of fight/flight or freeze. This happens by training the middle ear muscles to perceive high frequencies better and improves social engagement via the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th cranial nerves. This music used for the SSP uses the human voice for enhanced social engagement.

When we feel safe, we learn and digest better. We perceive and make varied vocal tones, and pick up on non-verbal communication, which we shut out if in fight or flight or freeze mode.

Over the age of 13, it is important to realise that the SSP may not be suitable for everyone, especially if you do not have another adult or therapist to work with you. This is why it is very important to find a trained SSP provider and work closely with them.

An SSP session involves listening to an hour of music, while interacting with a safe adult. Some of the activities we use as therapists – alongside smiles and non-verbal interaction – include:

  • play doh
  • colouring in
  • jigsaws
  • blowing bubbles
  • marble runs
  • blow painting
  • knitting
  • board games

The SSP works best when SUPERVISED by a trained therapist. In working with a therapist, you also have the peace of mind of full support, as well as the fact that they know to look out for signs of overwhelm, which may be subtle or barely noticeable. This is even more important in adolescents or adults wanting to complete the programme.

Follow ups to the SSP can either be in the form of further therapies – reflex integration work is particularly beneficial, although for adults with a trauma history, therapies such as somatic experiencing, TRE or EMDR may also be beneficial.

However, you can also manage further social engagement progress yourself by doing activities that help to calm the vagus nerve, such as yoga with a group of people, meditation, playing woodwind or brass instruments or singing. However, it is important to emphasise the fact that if you do the SSP and nothing else, you will gradually see the positive effects diminish.

Yoga is massively beneficial following a course of the Safe and Sound Protocol – and also a fantastic way to connect with others in a non-challenging environment

It is also important to recognise that the SSP does not do the same for any two people. Some have reported absolutely life-changing miracles, others barely notice anything. Even if you notice nothing, the protocol will have had a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system. However, it’s important to realise that you may not immediately notice change, and it’s important to continue afterwards with other modalities that work to regulate the vagus nerve.

All the people I’ve completed the SSP with have reported feeling a lot calmer when faced with situations that would normally cause anxiety. People notice feeling joy in their lives for the first time in ages, and some have had incredible technicolour dreams, showing that their limbic systems have come online. In addition, better sleep has been reported by most, as well as improved social engagement, with spontaneous smiles and easier eye contact.

In the case of a couple of primary school-aged boys who were mainly in “freeze” mode, there has been such a marked improvement in social engagement that the boys in question have started having play dates for the first time ever and talk about “friends” at school, which had never happened prior to doing the SSP.

In another couple of cases of children in “fight or flight mode”, they have gone from lashing out at others to completely stopping that impulsive and aggressive behaviour when feeling under threat.

If you would like to use the Safe and Sound Protocol for yourself, I would ask you to come to me for an initial assessment first. Based on that assessment, we would decide on whether home or clinic use is most appropriate for you, depending on whether someone is available to support you through the programme – as well as how closely I feel you can listen to my instructions! This is SO important, as it is easy for a person to become overwhelmed without even realising it.

It may be appropriate to slow the protocol right down over a number of weeks, or you may be able to complete it in five days.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is available from the following providers across the UK and Europe:

International Providers

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