The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a 5-hour auditory intervention. It was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, an internationally renowned trauma researcher and neuroscientist, based on his Polyvagal Theory. The SSP is a cutting edge intervention, developed to reduce mental health symptoms associated with an over-stressed vagus nerve response.
The nervous system is sensitive to sounds to help identify and respond to safety and danger in the environment. Sounds can change the regulation of the autonomic nervous system which is involved in stress reactions. The intervention uses specially filtered music to help regulate the nervous system by resetting autonomic functioning. Our ability to hear and tune to a full range of frequencies maintains the body’s ability to be on alert, or stay calm and socially engaged in the presence of others. Calm states are required for learning, development, relationships and to maintain mood.
You can learn more about polyvagal theory on our research project page.
How does it work?
When our nervous system is feeling safe, it is operating in the “social engagement” and “connection” mode. When the nervous system senses a danger, it becomes activated and moves into a state of “fight-flight” (sympathetic) or “freeze” (dorsal vagal). This system originally evolved to help us respond quickly in a survival situation to fight off or flee from a predator. If escape was not possible, the system instructed us to “freeze”. Unless we are in a life-threatening situation, these responses are not helpful to us in the modern world. However, our systems are unable to recognize if these autonomic responses are healthy or unhealthy for us. The nervous system just responds.
Trauma/Stress: For many people, the nervous system is unable to easily move out of this activated state once the stress or danger has passed, and the nervous system’s defense response can be chronically “on”. When the defense response is activated, it cannot support calm social engagement. Social engagement is our connection to others, our relationships, and our ability to feel safe with others. If our system is chronically activated and on constant “red alert” for danger, it will impact our relationships, focus, mood, stress levels, health and wellness.
Hypersensitivities: In people with sensory hypersensitivities, this nervous system activation makes it very difficult to tune out extra stimulation and to differentiate between safety and danger cues. Any stimulation can feel overwhelming when the system is already activated, even good experiences that we know are positive.
Autism: For those with autism symptoms, there can be an autonomic imbalance towards more sympathetic (“charged”) nervous system responses than parasympathetic (“restful/calm”) responses. Studies have shown the SSP can help those with autism or hypersensitivities “power down” so that they can feel calmer, more able to communicate and respond, and less activated or charged up.
But how do ears make me feel safe?
Here is a short video about how the responses to sound work together with the vagus nerve to reduce the activation of your nervous system.
The human ear and nervous system are particularly sensitive to sounds of human voices, giving people the ability to attend to speech, even in the presence of louder sounds that are lower or higher in pitch than human voices. (If you have ever been in a noisy room and suddenly noticed someone saying your name in a conversation you didn’t realize you were listening to, you understand this).
When the middle ear muscles contract, the human ear is ‘tuned’ to detect the sounds of speech, and give less attention to other sound frequencies. In our evolutionary history, low sounds were often associated with danger (growling predators, heavy footsteps coming, etc), while high pitched sounds were associated with pain or distress calls. If the middle ear muscles are not contracting adequately, the person isn’t as able to hear the frequencies associated with the human voice, which our nervous system uses to calm defense reactions. In polyvagal terms, these are “cues of safety.”
Over the course of the SSP, the musical filters progressively elicit greater levels of muscle contraction, and thus strengthen the link between hearing, safety, and middle ear muscle.
There is currently no cost. The SSP is simply an option for your services at Spencer Psychology, if you are interested in using the protocol.
Side effects are unlikely, as this is a non-invasive intervention. However, every individual’s nervous system is unique and can respond differently. We encourage clients to discuss any effects from the SSP protocol with their therapist.
If you are already a Spencer Psychology client interested in trying the SSP, talk to your therapist. If you are a new client, please fill out our contact form and select SSP as one of the options you would like.