Our Research Projects


Spencer Psychology is collaborating with the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute. We have two studies running. The first is a survey study, examining the impact of trauma and stress on the brain, body and behavior. The second is investigating the efficacy of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) in reducing trauma symptoms in clients with PTSD diagnoses.

Our studies are based on Polyvagal Theory.

What is polyvagal theory?

Polyvagal Theory explains how threat can retune the autonomic nervous system into states of defense that disrupt social interactions, mood, sexual functioning, and health. Maladaptive responses can become chronic, and create additional problems with irritability, depression, anxiety, stress and chronic pain (like migraines, digestive issues and fibromyalgia).

Understanding polyvagal theory and trauma/stress responses

If we have unresolved trauma in our past, we may live in a version of perpetual fight-or-flight. We may be able to channel this fight-or-flight anxiety into activities such as cleaning the house, raking the leaves or working out at the gym, but these activities will have a different feel than they would if they were done with social engagement biology (think “Whistle While You Work”).

For some trauma survivors, no activity successfully channels their fight-or-flight sensations. They may be chronically distressed, irritable, angry or anxious. Over time, the sympathetic nervous system becomes overwhelmed and no longer works correctly. These people may then live in a version of perpetual shutdown, numbness, depression or freeze. Sometimes this chronic stress response develops into a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the constant activation of the vagus nerve in the autonomic nervous system.

Spencer Psychology – Traumatic Stress Research Consortium Study

Study 1-The Effects of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) on PTSD Symptoms and Anxiety: Clinicians internationally have been using the SSP for trauma clients, to help reduce reactivity and emotional dysregulation by improving the social engagement system at a nervous system level. Clinicians at Spencer Psychology are coordinating with Dr. Porges and his team at the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium to validate the SSP for official use with clients with trauma.

To learn more about the SSP, please read our SSP page. Clients may participate in the study if they have a trauma diagnosis. However, all clients can still have the intervention whether they participate in the research portion or not.

Study 2 Survey Project: We are currently collecting data with any interested current clients who are at least 19 years old to help us learn more about this cutting edge theory. The survey is anonymous. Clients do not need to have a trauma diagnosis, as we are looking at the body responses across multiple age groups, counseling experiences, and diagnoses. The study consists of a survey, available by link that the client can do at home, or on a tablet in the office. It takes 20-40 minutes, and includes questions about health, pain, and optional questions about sexual functioning.

Clients will receive a feedback form from the survey with information about traumatic response levels and pain issues. This can be shared with their clinician if the client chooses. The questions bring up body issues that the client may not previously have connected with mental health care, so the survey questions as a whole can also be discussed as part of the therapeutic intervention and awareness of stress on the body.

Therapy based on Polyvagal Principles

Most of the clinicians at Spencer Psychology are trained in polyvagal therapy or Somatic Experiencing. These techniques teach clients to deactivate maladaptive nervous system activation in the present so anxiety, panic and depression symptoms are reduced. They can also process the traumatic or stressful responses as part of the brain’s memory of how the body felt during traumatic or stressful events. This is frequently woven into EMDR sessions, and is proving to be very effective in alleviating painful memories for our clients.