Spontaneous Social Engagement
General Autonomic Nervous System Balance
Or.... are you striving to recover from a traumatic event or events, or situations, physical or psychological?
The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is an auditory intervention program designed to re-balance the autonomic nervous system allowing the body to re-align into a state of safety. This re-alignment permits the person's system to expend its energies on maintenance processes and community interaction instead of defensive behaviours. If such symptomology was presenting this re-balancing allows for relief of dysfunctions in sensory processing and sensitivities, state regulation, social communication, focus, attention, and generalized hyperawareness causing anxiety. This re-balancing can also be used, in conjunction with a trained therapist, to assist in recovery from psychological and physical trauma.
The efficacy of the SSP in addressing the above areas of need has been demonstrated not only through its development process but also through clinical studies (Reducing auditory hypersensitivities in autistic spectrum disorder..., Autism and regulation of hypersensitivity) and numerous case studies. There are two further clinical studies recently completed but not yet published (The Listening Project: Tuning into Change, The Listening Project at Reiss-Davis...) investigating the effects of the SSP on auditory hypersensitivities, social behaviour, and state regulation in, first, children with a trauma history, and, second, children demonstrating autonomic and behavioural self-regulation difficulties in the classroom. Additional studies are underway to investigate the use of the SSP to reduce chronic pain in older adults (Examining the effects of processed music on chronic pain), to quantify the effect of the SSP on auditory hypersensitivities, auditory processing difficulties, state regulation difficulties, and social behaviour difficulties in individuals of all ages recruited from a Toronto ADHD/ADD treatment clinic (The Listening Project at the ADD Centre and Biofeedback Institute of Toronto), and to assess various impacts of the SSP on individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome (Home-based SSP on individuals with PWS, Optimizing the social engagement system in Prader-Willi Syndrome...).
The protocol itself is a 5-day intervention during which the participant listens to specially altered music one hour per day. This music has been altered so as to induce a “work-out” for the muscles of the middle ear. Engagement of these muscles allows for the reception of safety signals from our environment, such as human voice over background noise. Reception of these safety signals in turn promotes a shift to the parasympathetic side of our autonomic nervous system functioning which allows for attention to be spared to everyday input such as the appropriate level of visual or auditory stimuli, general body functioning, maintenance, and growth, and focused concentration on singular tasks. The nerves responsible for the engagement of the middle ear muscles are also part of the nerve bundle (the Vagus nerve) most closely associated with the social engagement level of the human autonomic nervous system (see “The Theory Behind the SSP”, below). Working the middle ear nerves results in a generalized receptivity to engagement by the other nerves of this Vagus bundle, which results in activity in areas such as facial muscle mobility, tonal inflections in speech, awareness and exhibition of nonverbal communication, gastro-intestinal functioning, and so forth. Properly supported a positive feedback cycle is initiated, resulting in sustained and improving gains in all of the areas mentioned, both those associated directly with the nerves, and those associated with the shift to the “social” system.
Effects of the protocol generally start to be experienced over the course of administration, however, integration continues for the following 4-6 weeks. There is no “homework” involved with the protocol, other than to be nice to yourself and to surround yourself as much as possible with positive interactions and experiences, but, the participant’s system is doing a considerable amount of work and as a result most participants experience noticeable amounts of fatigue both the week of and the week following administration. Additionally, for those with sensory hypersensitivities, these hypersensitivities often spike during administration, with a subsequent reduction one or a few days later.
Since the SSP addresses root causes its effects are generally long lasting and maintenance administrations are generally not required. However, jolts to the system would merit a re-balancing administration to assist the system in regaining its balance, and those who have further to go, such as individuals presenting with autism, would benefit from multiple administrations to increase the overall effect…. there is only so much that can be done at one time.
A short video clip describing the SSP as it is experienced through the administration is available here.
The Safe and Sound Protocol is based upon the Polyvagal Theory developed by Dr. Porges (bio) of the University of North Carolina from his research into autism. The polyvagal theory is a theory of our autonomic nervous system, which is the system responsible for all of our unconscious processes. According to the polyvagal theory the mammalian autonomic response system is composed of three independent, hierarchical, systems – an immobilization system, responsible for the “freeze” reaction, a mobilization system, responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, and, the most recent development specific to us mammals, a social engagement system, responsible for allowing us to interact as a community with other social animals. When a situation is deemed safe by our autonomic nervous system our social engagement system is engaged, inhibiting the engagement of the other two systems and promoting the implementation of not just restorative, but also social, behaviours, such as attention, self-regulation, and sophisticated communication. Without engagement of that social engagement system the mobilization and immobilization systems take control and selectively promote their behaviours and perceptions, which are often contrary to social community behaviours. An explanation of the polyvagal theory by Dr. Porges is available here - The Polyvagal theory and the Vagal Nerve, Bulletproof Radio, Dec. 1, 2015. A timeline of the development of the polyvagal theory and the SSP is available here.
I completed the SSP training in May, 2019, and starting offering the program soon thereafter. Training for the SSP is restricted, my qualifications for approval included my B.A. in Psychology, my at the time pending M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies, my Diploma in Piano Performance, potentially my B.Sc. in Engineering, and my experiences as an educator, particularly of special needs individuals, and with the development of generalized parenting programs as well as education and intervention plans for individuals with autism. In addition to the standard training module I have also completed the additional module “When Discomfort Arises: Using the SSP with Adolescents and Adults”.
I myself am a trauma survivor who has gone through considerable amounts of therapy for these experiences, and so do have some understanding of some of the challenges of this demographic, as well as some of the signs of difficulties presenting. I have undergone the SSP, and was pleased with the results.
I also have an adult son with autism, who I home educated. I thus had close experience, through him, with some of the difficulties which can present with this demographic, the and various options available to attempt to manage these. I did administer the protocol to my son also, with, for him, life-changing results.
I provide administration of the Safe and Sound Protocol in the safe, friendly, setting of my office in North-West Calgary. My focus demographic is youth and adults but I will provide services for individuals as young as 6 years of age. The typical package includes:
The above typically costs around $950 (prices subject to change). A formal final report can be provided for approximately $180 additional charge (prices subject to change).
I do also collaborate with other health care professionals, such as psychologists, to integrate the SSP into broader, or more specific, treatment plans. This is especially relevant for those interested in using the SSP as part of a trauma treatment program. Costs are particular to the individual and dependent upon the split of responsibility between treatment professionals.
Follow-up and repeat administrations can be provided for a lesser cost than the initial or first administration.
Those with a seizure disorder should be seizure free for one year and cleared by a neurologist before engaging in the protocol. Those with bipolar disorder should also be cleared by a neurologist or psychiatrist before commencing the protocol.
It is important to recognize that the SSP is not explicitly a treatment plan for particular issues, such as organization or social interaction. What the SSP does is open an individual’s system up so that it can function as it is intended, which then results in more receptivity, or ability, to engage in their problematic areas, such as organization or social behaviour. But, these improvements in ability need to be supported in order to fully take effect. In many instances this is relatively simple and can be done independently, or through simply the process of life. However, in other instances it may be advisable to integrate the SSP with other treatments, such as social skills training or occupational therapy, so as to assist in the “making up” of lost time. Similarly, and conversely, if an individual is in treatment for some issues but progress is slow, a run through the SSP can greatly increase the relative ease of these other treatments as the SSP opens up the individual’s receptivity for treatment. This last has been the experience of many occupational therapists, as well, it is commented on by this individual here who after painfully going through cognitive behaviour therapy for trauma-related anxiety, experienced much greater effect after having engaged in the SSP. I do provide conversation of ways to best integrate the SSP experience into my clients’ lives throughout their SSP experience with me.
To further inform yourself of the SSP and its potential applicability to your situation please take a look through the resources provided under the “Resources” section of this page. Please also, or alternatively, feel welcome to contact me, Erika, at 1-403-472-8405 or via the contact button below, for direct conversation specific to your situation. If you then decide you are interested in pursuing the SSP we will schedule an intake appointment and tentative administration and follow-up appointments. I will provide pre-intake forms to be completed prior to the intake appointment so that we will be able to most efficiently make use of our time during that appointment to discuss the relevance of the SSP to you and to prepare you to maximise its effects, and then we will be on our way to…. setting you free!
Great little video on the levels of the autonomic nervous system - Get to know your nervous system - YouTube, August 13, 2019
A much longer, and more technical, but not overly so, overview of the polyvagal theory by Dr. Stephen Porges - Stephen Porges - The Polyvagal Theory and the Vagal Nerve - #264 , Bullteproof Radio, Dec. 1, 2015.
The polyvagal theory and safety (thus relates more to trauma) - Dr. Stephen Porges - What is Polyvagal Theory, April 23, 2018
The SSP - days 1 through 5 - How does the experience of the SSP vary as it progresses from Day 1 through Day 5 , Jan. 12, 2018.
The SSP and changes in social engagement and routine behaviours - What kinds of changes can I expect in my child/client from doing the SSP?, May 4, 2018.
A great little read on autism and the polyvagal theory - "Reframing your thinking around autism: How the polyvagal theory and brain plasticity help us make sense of autism" by Holly Bridges.
A text by Dr. Stephen Porges on the polyvagal theory and trauma - "The pocket guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The transformative power of feeling safe".
Dr. Porges' comprehensive academic text on the polyvagal theory - "The polyvagal theory - neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, self-regulation".
Adult with anxiety experiences relief - SSP testimonial for complex trauma and anxiety
Adult with anxiety experiences relief and develops voice prosody - "A new kind of happy - removing anxiety in adults"
"I am so glad I went through with the SSP, it really has been life changing. Not only do I feel more at peace internally, but I believe it served as a catalyst for getting the professional help I needed to deal with my PTSD from childhood trauma. I have made so much progress since taking the SSP and really want to thank Erika for not only being a great support during, but also continuing to check in with me afterwards."