What Is Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)?
Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the SSP is a five-day intervention designed to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity while enhancing social engagement and resilience. By calming the physiological and emotional state, the door is opened for improved communication and more successful therapy.
SAFE AND SOUND PROTOCOL (SSP): A PORTAL TO SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT
This non-invasive intervention involves listening to music that has been processed specifically to retune the nervous system (regulating state) to introduce a sense of safety and the ability to socially engage. This allows the client to better interpret not only human speech but, importantly, the emotional meaning of language. Once interpersonal interactions improve, spontaneous social behaviours and an enhanced ability to learn, self-regulate and engage are often seen.
How Does It Work?
Based on Dr. Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, the program is derived from nearly four decades of research on the relationship between the autonomic nervous system and social-emotional processes. It is designed to stimulate nervous system regulation by exercising and systematically challenging the auditory system with specifically processed music. The music trains the auditory pathways by focusing on the frequency envelope of human speech. As the client learns to process these speech-related frequencies, they improve the functioning of two cranial nerves that are important for promoting overall social behavior. Cranial Nerve VII (Facial Nerve) helps clients focus on human voice and tune out irrelevant frequencies. Cranial Nerve X (Vagus Nerve) enables self-soothing and autonomic regulation.
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Case Vignette: Hanna
Hannah is a 59-year old woman who presented for treatment suffering from complex PTSD-symptoms as a result of war-related and developmental trauma. She reported overwhelming migraines, poor sleep, recurrent nightmares and anxiety. Hannah also had difficulties concentrating, she experienced mind fog and found it exhausting to socially engage with others, even her own family members that she loved very much.
Neurofeedback treatment in the context of psychological therapy assisted Hannah in improving her sleep and reducing migraines. It also allowed Hannah to arrive at valuable insights about the event that triggered the emergence of her symptoms, as well as to understand current triggers in the context of past trauma. Further, Hannah was able to make more sense of her longstanding recurrent dreams about her childhood as well as to piece together certain fragments of her memory. She reported this to be very empowering.
Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) was added at the end of neurofeedback treatment as Hannah was still reporting feeling unsafe and depleted by social interactions. She continued to experience difficulty in regulating her emotions.
Following 5 SSP sessions Hannah reported feeling calm and not experiencing anger – in fact she expressed that she could not get angry even if she tried to! She was happy to report that she could sit with her children and have a conversation without feeling depleted by the interactions. She expressed not feeling this way in a long time. Hannah’s family also noticed the changes and commented on the positive effect the treatment has had on her.
The graph below illustrates a significant decrease in trauma related symptoms pre to post treatment (Harvard Trauma questionnaire – HDQ), with positive changes in symptoms of anxiety and depression as well (Hopkins Symptom Checklist – HSCL)
** Clients name has been changed, and some details of the story have been modified to protect client’s identity.