The Safe and Sound Protocol by iLs (Integrated Listening Systems) is an evidence-based intensive listening programme aimed at those with anxiety, social communication difficulties and trauma that has been developed as a result of over four decades of peer-reviewed research, based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory.
The cost of the Safe and Sound Protocol depends on your circumstances. I provide a flat rate for full families and a subscription rate for follow ups.
How does the Safe and Sound Protocol Work?
Music is played through over-ear headphones, which has been specially engineered in order to gradually expose the auditory system to different sound frequencies. It works by stimulating the facial and vagus nerves and helping the autonomic nervous system to regulate, improving concentration and social engagement.
Over-the-ear headphones are recommended instead of earbuds or on-ear headphones because they provide an immersive sound experience facilitated by their enclosed nature.
The vagus nerve has a sensory branch from the external ear, the external auditory canal, and the pinna (which is the ear skin/tissue itself). By covering the whole ear with over-ear headphones, we’re maximizing input to the vagus nerve for maximum parasympathetic function. Earbuds only bring input to the external auditory canal and eardrum.
Prospective clients often ask me why the Safe and Sound Protocol is so different from other auditory integration programmes. I hope this page answers this question. In a nutshell, the Safe and Sound Protocol is the only auditory intervention that directly retunes and regulates autonomic state, moving a person out of fight/flight/freeze and into a rest and digest/parasympathetic state.
This blog post on the Safe and Sound Protocol also explains how it works, as do the following videos:
About the SSP – Dr Stephen Porges
Who is the Safe and Sound Protocol for?
When faced with what the body perceives as threats or danger, it responds by re-tuning the nervous system into states of defense – either “fight or flight” (sympathetic) or “freeze” (dorsal vagal). The brain and body’s first priority is to keep us alive.
When the nervous system remains in a chronic state of defense, it affects both the mind and body – impacting how we feel, think, and connect with others.
This can adversely affect our health and day-to-day experience in the world. Talking therapies require a person to take a top-down approach, and be able to name their emotions and rationalise in order to make progress. The Safe and Sound Protocol is a bottom-up approach, in that it works directly with a person’s physiological response to perceived threat.
In addition to acute, repetitive, complex and developmental trauma, the Safe and Sound Protocol has been proven to help the following difficulties and challenges:
- Social and emotional difficulties
- Auditory sensitivities
- Auditory processing difficulties
- Anxiety and trauma related challenges
- Stressors that impact social engagement
How do I access the Safe and Sound Protocol?
If you want to complete the Safe and Sound Protocol safely and with confidence in my experience of supporting children and young people with neurodiversity and trauma and their parents, your first step is to contact me for an initial free chat, or you can book an assessment. You can also trial the SSP Connect for a month with no commitment to working with me.
The only equipment you’ll need is an iPhone with iOS 11 or newer, or an Android device less than 2 years old, as well as pair of over-ear headphones that are not noise cancelling, or on which you can turn noise cancelling off. I recommend the OneOdio A70s, as they are inexpensive but excellent quality. I use one of these to connect to my iPhone, just because I’m not keen on Bluetooth connections, but that is down to me being a dinosaur rather than anything else. This particular model allows you to charge a phone at the same time. If you need a splitter for iphone, if you are going to listen with a child, I recommend this one. Please discuss this possibility with me before you make a purchase, though, as it may be that I feel you need to listen separately.
It is also important to emphasise the fact that if your default autonomic state is “freeze”, it is likely that I will not be able to work with you remotely, so please do bear this in mind. This is for your own safety, and because I have been working with the SSP for long enough to get a sense of whether remote work is possible/advisable with a client or not.
Emma Ashfield was one of the first practitioners to train in the Safe and Sound Protocol in the United Kingdom, and is currently the only Safe and Sound Protocol provider in West Sussex/East Surrey. She specialises in children and young people with social, emotional, learning and behavioural challenges and their parents.
Emma works closely with the growing community of experienced SSP practitioners across the UK, and is also a contributor to iLs SSP training.
SSP Testimonials and Case Studies
Dan – aged 7
6 months on from SSP and my son not only fully participated in a dance display at his school but look at him – he’s smiling!!! 😁😁😁 Last autumn he had to be persuaded to speak 5 words at harvest festival and here he is absolutely smashing the dance performance! I held back tears the whole way through I was so impressed by how far he has come.
Oscar, aged 9
We recently worked with Emma to look at reducing anxiety in our eldest. We are already doing reflex work but Emma offered us the Safe and Sound Protocol, which we did under her guidance. O responded immediately in a positive way, is much slower to react to triggers and accesses his coping strategies much more easily. Would highly recommend Emma.
Erika – aged 47
Erika had started suffering from social anxiety and depression following the birth of her now school-aged child. She found social situations hard and would constantly cancel at the last minute. In addition, she found switching off after work very hard, and was an insomniac, functioning on as little as four hours’ sleep a night.
She heard about the Safe and Sound Protocol via social media, and was keen to give it a go.
We had a one hour one-to-one session, in which we played a wonderful game of scrabble! I then issued instructions on how to proceed for days 2-5, and then we reconvened for a one hour debrief on day 5.
“The main result I’ve noticed from the SSP is my quality of sleep. During the programme, I was ready to go to bed by 9pm every night, and slept soundly until 6am! I’ve also noticed a great reduction in social anxiety, and feel more able to confront social situations without panicking”.
Oliver – aged 4
Oliver has had issues with aggression against other children for the past few months, both at pre-school and in public spaces such as playgrounds. His parents contacted me because they are convinced was to do with anxiety, and didn’t know how to address it. He has a mild speech and language disorder, which makes him less articulate than the average four year-old.
We completed the protocol during the October half term holiday, and since then, the incidents have petered out to once a day, once a week and none at all in early December! In addition, I have noticed that his speech has improved very noticeably in clarity and content.
Austin – aged 8
Austin has a range of diagnosed specific learning difficulties, including dypraxia, dyslexia and dysgraphia. We did the programme together on the first day – he enjoyed drawing and making models with air drying clay during our first session. His parents then continued through to day five with him at home. They reported that he went to sleep far more easily throughout the programme. Additionally, there was a drastic improvement in handwriting, without any other intervention.
The SSP continues to make improvements for several weeks after it has been completed.
Lucy – aged 45
Lucy decided to try the SSP as a drug-free way to address her anxiety. She has found it much easier to sleep since completing the programme, but even better news for her is that it has eased her perimenopause and her monthly cycle is once again regular after a year of being all over the place.
Lukas – aged 6
Lukas came to me with a presentation of sensory processing difficulties and poor receptive language skills. He completed one session with me, in which he drew me some fantastic pictures and then made trains out of play doh. He completed the remainder of the programme at home with his mother, with remote support.
His mother reports that he has developed close friendships with a couple of boys in his class and has been invited for playdates for the first time ever! His attention at school is noticeably improved, and sensory issues reduced.
Jack – aged 9
Jack is non-verbal and struggles with anxiety, and attends a specialist school, where he requires a high level of support with transitions and routine.
He completed the SSP over the holidays.
When he started back at school, his key worker could not believe the change, as he had started following instructions without having his hand physically held. He was also able to cope much better with transitions (such as the end of play time), and has started to join in with songs during circle time.
Further SSP case studies are published on the iLs website
*Please note that some of the names above have been changed for complete anonymity.
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When you work with me, your entire family benefits from a flat rate, so there are no hidden surprises cost-wise. You will all go through the Connect programme first, which acts as part of my assessment process in terms of assessing suitability and readiness for SSP Core.
Here is some feedback from one of my families about using the SSP Connect as practice for SSP Core:
16th March 2023
We have been using the SSP Connect and I must say we have really been enjoying the experience. I have been surprised at just how enjoyable is really is to carve out the time to sit down and do something fun and relaxing while listening to music. You said that this part alone was therapeutic, and now I can see that you were absolutely right. I’m really glad that we have taken the time to do SSP Connect because we definitely have needed to work out the best way to get the space set up and everything feeling right for the session, so I’m grateful that you educated us on how beneficial this would be.
Move2Connect was amongst the first practices offer the Safe and Sound Protocol in the UK, and is now one of the most experienced Safe and Sound Protocol providers in the world, providing regular feedback and clinical advice to Unyte-iLs in the field of neuro-developmental therapy and the SSP.
If you are looking into the Safe and Sound Protocol and trying to work out who to work with, please read this article first, which contains a number of important questions to ask a provider before parting with any money. It is particularly important to research the protocol and polyvagal theory thoroughly and ask plenty of questions to ensure that your practitoner understands the protocol properly before signing up.
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The Safe and Sound Protocol – a parent’s experience
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