The Safe and Sound Protocol in the UK

…vital information from a collection of the most experienced practitioners

This post contains vital information for remote clients of the Safe and Sound Protocol as well as people researching.

If you are looking for information on what the SSP is, please refer to this post –

As you probably already know, the Safe and Sound Protocol is a five-hour listening programme, based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory. It is not necessarily a five-day listening programme.

Brief overview of the polyvagal theory

When we work with the nervous system, less is always more. “More” is like stretching a perished rubber band to breaking point – you’re bound to see side effects as a person grows into their “more”, whereas with less, a person can still grow into a more settled system, but gradually.

The Safe and Sound Protocol is designed to help a person process trauma as well as improve social engagement, language and cognition. The protocol was originally intended for children with developmental trauma as well as to improve social communication for children with autism, but it is in widespread use by psychotherapists and other trauma therapists globally for complex trauma in adults, as a powerful non-talking intervention that helps people to process trauma effectively.

Your practitioner NEEDS to be trauma-informed. This means they need to be trained in trauma and understand both trauma and the polyvagal theory in depth. This doesn’t mean simply banding the word “trauma” around or citing a couple of books they’ve read. A practitioner MUST have a thorough knowledge of how the SSP works and they must work with you to ensure that they understand exactly how much listening you need every day as well as the volume you should use, whether to complete in clinic or digitally and so-on.

How to get the most from the Safe and Sound Protocol

A thorough job involves a lot of preparation and support on the part of both you and your practitioner, and success is equally dependent on you fully engaging with what you are doing as it is on your practitioner working ethically and knowledgeably with you.

Let me give you a couple of case studies – one positive, one negative, in order to illustrate my point further about the importance of being trauma-informed.

Adverse reaction to SSP in a 5 year old

1: William, aged 6 did SSP last year at home with his parents. He had a history of lengthy hospital stays and trauma. It is worth mentioning that our health and social care system in the UK had not identified the link between invasive early childhood hospital stays and behaviour, and hence William had been placed on a diagnostic pathway for autism and ADHD.

His practitioner advised starting with 15 minutes of listening, but unfortunately his mother decided that because he was looking relaxed and happy while listening, she would leave him to listen and play with Lego while she went to do the dinner. She forgot he was listening, and he did a full hour. She admitted this to the practitioner, who took a deep breath re ignoring instructions, and said it would be wise to give it a break the following day. Unfortunately, this advice was not heeded, and so William did a second hour-long session the following day… after which he threw a cat down the stairs, kicked a hole in a shed door and threw his mother’s mobile phone in a fish pond. When his mother asked the practitioner whether this was a normal reaction, the answer had to be very measured considering the fact that all instructions had been completely ignored.

It took William FOUR months for anyone to see any benefits. By this time, he had been suspended from school twice and was on a final warning. However, once he had settled, his progress was fantastic: he was able to vocalise his anger so much better, and in the meantime, sleep settled right down too.

Since the initial round of SSP, William’s mother has also done SSP for herself and he has had a repeat of days 3-5.

In fact, the above is still a positive result, despite appearing to be an adverse reaction. In fact, William was merely responding to his environment after being overwhelmed by too much challenge to his nervous system in one hit. It is also worth mentioning that the reason why an experienced practitioner may suggest that a parent also completes SSP themselves is that it is essential for parents to connect deeply with their children during this process. Leaving them to play Lego while they listen is not going to provide the magic bullet they think they are paying for, and neither is completely disregarding carefully given instructions.

A wonderful experience for an adult with PTSD

2. Annabelle, a 40 year-old with PTSD following survival of a terrorism incident, first did SSP in December in clinic, following many years of talking therapies, EMDR and somatic experencing.

She completed the SSP in half hour slots on a Monday and Friday over 5 weeks. Even after her first half hour, she noticed incredible gains in terms of ability to connect with strangers. After completion of day 3, she had a job interview and got the job, where she remains happy to date. She completed the five-day protocol and reported a fantastic shift in terms of anxiety. However, she decided to undertake a booster of days 3-5 remotely using the Digital SSP in April 2020 due to stress over the Covid-19 situation, which she reports to have made her feel noticeably calmer and better able to sleep through the night without 3am wake-up-and-worry sessions.

What has happened, and why was this so successful? Annabelle fully engaged in the process. She researched SSP and the Polyvagal theory thoroughly in advance and engaged with her practitioner every single day to give the required feedback so the programme could be tweaked if necessary.

So, how do we avoid having a William situation, and ensure a peaceful Annabelle situation?

  1. Research your provider.
  2. How long have they been qualified to deliver SSP?
  3. What is their background?
  4. Don’t be scared to ask how many clients they have worked with.
  5. What kind of client they specialise in?
  6. Do they specialise in SSP or are they a jack of all trades?
  7. Are they trauma-certified?
  8. Ask them to explain how SSP works – can they do this clearly?
  9. Ask what sort of side-effects they have seen and how they deal with them.
  10. Do they ever refuse clients? (you want them to say yes, and explain why – you would also want them to explain that they cannot deal with adults with complex trauma remotely and will ideally need to see them face-to-face in clinic).
  11. How do they work out how to work with clients?
  12. How will communication take place during the protocol (you want them to say that they are on call for you all the time by email and/or telephone).
  13. What will happen post-SSP? What is their go-to follow up? Do they insist on you following their programme or do they have a network of other therapists they refer to?
  14. How will they prepare you for SSP?
  15. In addition, are they strikingly cheap or strikingly expensive?
  16. Do they have a website? Have a really good look around it and research several providers.

I have been providing SSP for two years, and have worked with over 150 clients to date, with developmental and complex trauma. I have a mentorship programme for anyone wishing to incorporate SSP into their practice.

For any questions about the Safe and Sound Protocol, either as a client or a practitioner, please contact me.

1 Comment

  1. […] See and read about one clinician’s use of the Safe and Sound Protocol in the U.K. here […]

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