Safe & Sound Protocol: Calming the System
What is the Safe & Sound Protocol?
Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges and based on the Polyvagal Theory, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a five day auditory intervention designed to address a number of common symptoms experienced by children and adults. Two additional days are added to the beginning and end of the listening program for preparation and integration. The protocol also includes elements of expressive art therapy to further enhance the effectiveness of the listening program.
The SSP stimulates nervous system regulation and can help with difficulties such as anxiety, irritability, anger, social interaction and auditory sensitivity.
The intervention uses prosodic vocal music that has been filtered to send signals of soothing safeness that train the middle ear to tune out signals of danger (low frequency sounds) and instead take in more signals of safety (high frequency sounds such as the human voice). The music is heard through headphones in the office or via a digital app while engaging in a calm activity.
What to Expect from the SSP?
SSP assists in calming the physiological and emotional state which leads to improved communication and more successful therapy.
Some of the changes that occur with SSP may occur immediately. Most changes occur over 3 months or more as the individual is able to engage and relate in new ways. Support from other therapies (art therapy, psychotherapy, OT, PT) increases gains tremendously.
SSP is not a cure-all, but it can create physiological changes that are otherwise difficult to attain.
A great benefit of SSP is that we don’t have to fully understand what has caused your struggles. The beauty of SSP is that it is not ‘talk therapy’, so discussing the backstory or your current symptoms and behaviors are not necessary.
SSP is best seen as a platform to enable proactive positive choices and used as an adjunct to other therapies, rather than as a standalone intervention.
Given that the SSP is designed to be an adjunct to therapy, it is necessary to be in therapy while participating in the listening program. If you are not currently in therapy, we will schedule 5-7 individual therapy sessions following the end of your listening program to process the work. (*The fee for these sessions are not included in the base price of the SSP; they will be billed at Dr. Amy’s regular therapy hour rate.)
Who might benefit from SSP?
Stephen Porges first began using the SSP with children with autism, resulting in sometimes remarkable changes. Now we know that SSP can also benefit individuals with:
- Auditory sensitivity
- Chronic anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Relationship difficulties
- Social anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Behavioral acting out
- Learning problems
- Sleep problems (due to worry and ruminating)
- Self medicating (overeating, shopping, gambling)
Caveats for the use of SSP
As Stephen Porges has described, the SSP is a “potent” intervention. Many people experience stronger emotions for a short time as their defense mechanism lower. There are some indications that SSP is not an appropriate intervention if the following is occurring:
- Living in a home or work situation that is not currently safe
- Current life upheaval
- Trauma that has never been addressed in therapy
- History of disassociation
- Ongoing substance abuse
- Current self harm
How does SSP work?
The first thing to understand is the importance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is best described as our “personal surveillance system”, always determining and responding to the question “Am I safe?”
If our ANS is continually aroused through trauma or toxic, chronic stress, the muscles of our middle ear shifts away from listening for human voice and instead listens for low-frequency background noises in preparation for the need to respond (fight or flight). This makes us much less able to be socially engaged and much more likely to be reactive.
The specially calibrated music in SSP trains the auditory pathways to focus on the frequency of human speech and to tune out the frequencies of background noises. Once the ear begins to work more normally, we are more available for social engagement (we must feel safe to be socially engaged) and thus can experience the safety of our relationships much more fully.
The SSP is a five day auditory intervention. Two additional days are added to the beginning and end of the listening program for preparation and integration. The protocol also includes elements of expressive art therapy to further enhance the effectiveness of the listening program. The 7-day program takes place in our state of the art Sensory Spa to further support the regulation of your nervous system.
If you are participating in the SSP via telehealth, you will need to provide your own set of over-the-ear headphones as well as some art supplies.
Each listening session is 120 minutes; the first and last meetings are 90 minutes. The entire investment in the Safe and Sound Protocol is $3000*, which includes 12 total hours of time as well as a one-month subscription to the listening program for continued support of the nervous system upon completion of the SSP. Whether you are in the office or using the digital app, Dr. Amy will be present during all listening sessions. Sessions are encouraged to be scheduled as close together as possible.
*Should the SSP administration exceed 12 hours, additional time will be billed at Dr. Amy’s current hourly rate.
Please contact Dr. Amy Bjorkman today if you have questions or would like to determine your fit for the Safe & Sound Protocol.