The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)

Feel better, think better, connect better

What is the Safe and Sound Protocol?

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.

Music is played through over-ear headphones, which has been specially filtered 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.

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.

Who can the Safe and Sound Protocol help?

Now more than ever, the world is a busy place filled with uncertainty. People of all ages, demographics and geographies are struggling.  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. A proven solution is to look from the bottom up.

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
  • Inattention
  • Stressors that impact social engagement

This blog post on the Safe and Sound Protocol also explains how it works, as do the following videos:

What is the SSP?

How does the SSP work?

About the SSP – Dr Stephen Porges

How do I access the Safe and Sound Protocol?

The Safe and Sound Protocol is available as an app for Android or Apple devices.

From late September 2020, the Safe and Sound Protocol comprises 3 elements:

SSP Connect

A programme that can be completed unsupervised in preparation for the SSP Core. While you are working on this programme, I will expect regular updates from you.

SSP Core

Prior to starting the SSP Core, you will need to undergo screening to ascertain your suitability for this programme. If I do not think you are ready to work on this programme, you can continue to work with SSP Connect, and continue to check in regularly and work together towards the SSP Core programme.

SSP Balance

This programme contains calming music designed to further ground and integrate following completion of the Safe and Sound Protocol.

Our first SSP Core session, whether remote or in-person, will focus on building rapport, co-regulation, anchoring autonomic state and listening to the Safe and Sound Protocol together.

Adults with trauma should expect to complete around three hours of co-regulation and listening sessions with me via Zoom during the SSP Core. I also welcome co-regulation Zoom sessions during the SSP Connect programme.

What can I expect following the Safe and Sound Protocol?

The Safe and Sound Protocol has been described as a “portal to the Social Engagement System”, and can have powerful impacts on how you/your child interact with the world around them.

Essentially, the SSP is opening the system for greater engagement. What comes after the SSP can cement and extend the gains.

It is the repeated and consistent responses from the people around your child that will enhance their new sense of safety and reinforce the new behaviour.

It is also important to recognise that if you are a parent with extreme anxiety, you will benefit greatly from the Safe and Sound Protocol yourself, and it is recommended that you complete the programme before your child for the most optimal results.

Safe and Sound Protocol SSP UK

Safe and Sound Protocol Therapist UK

Some information about listening to the SSP

Emma Ashfield was one of the first practices to train in the Safe and Sound Protocol in the United Kingdom, and is currently the only Safe and Sound Protocol provider in Sussex/East Surrey. Emma works closely with the growing community of experienced SSP practitioners across the UK, and is also a contributor to iLs SSP training.

Emma is also a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, and a professional member of the UK Psychological Trauma Society.

Emma also offers primitive reflex integration, as a prequel or follow-up to the SSP, and is also trained in the iLs Focus programme, which was incorporated into practice in Spring 2020.

For more information about the Safe and Sound Protocol, the iLs Focus programme or reflex integration, please contact me.

The Safe and Sound Protocol – a parent’s experience

With the permission of Kimberly

Safe and sound protocol autism

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.