Our Research Projects

Collaboration with two studies:

Spencer Psychology works with the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute regarding two studies. One is a survey study, which looks at the impact of trauma and stress on the brain, body and behavior. Another study investigates the ability of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) to reduce trauma symptoms in clients with PTSD diagnoses.

Our research projects are based on Polyvagal Theory.

What is polyvagal theory?

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

Understanding polyvagal theory and trauma/stress res ponses

If we have trauma in our past that has not resolved, we may live in a version of continued fight-or-flight. We may channel this fight-or-flight anxiety into activities, including cleaning the house, raking leaves or working out at the gym. However, these activities will feel different than if they were done with social engagement biology (i.e. “Whistle While You Work”).

For some trauma survivors, no activity successfully channels their fight-or-flight sensations. They can become chronically distressed, irritable, angry or anxious. Over time, the sympathetic nervous system becomes overwhelmed and no longer works as it should. As a result, these people may 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.

Details about our Research Projects

Study 1-The Effects of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) on PTSD Symptoms and Anxiety:

Clinicians around the world have been using the SSP for trauma clients. The SSP helps reduce reactivity and emotional dysregulation by making the social engagement system better at a nervous system level. Our clinicians work with the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium to validate the SSP for use with clients with trauma.

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

Study 2 Survey Project:

We collect data with interested current clients who are 19 years old or older to help us learn more about SSP. The survey is anonymous. While clients do not need to have a trauma diagnosis, 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. The client can choose to share this feedback with their clinician. The questions bring up body issues that the client may not previously have connected with mental health care. The feedback can also be discussed as part of their therapeutic intervention and awareness of stress on the body.

Therapy based on Polyvagal Principles

Most of the clinicians at Spencer Psychology have training with polyvagal therapy or Somatic Experiencing. Our research projects help with using polyvagal principals into therapy. Using these techniques teach clients to deactivate maladaptive nervous system activation in the present to reduce anxiety, panic and depression symptoms. Additionally, 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. As a result, these techniques are often woven into EMDR sessions and is proving to be very effective in alleviating painful memories for our clients.