COVID-19 Update

Yes, we are in business. With support of Integrated Listening Systems, the parent company of the Safe and Sound Protocol, we at Musical Dreams Piano Studio have moved to remote administration of the Safe and Sound Protocol, thus, we are still (or back) in business.  So please read on, to discover your path to freedom!

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Is it for you?

Are you suffering from heightened visual or auditory sensitivities, sensory processing challenges, difficulties with social behaviours or verbal or non-verbal communication? Is your autonomic nervous system out of whack? Do you have difficulties with attention, focus, or other areas of self-regulation, such as anger management? Are you explicitly working through a past trauma, or are you suffering the after effects of such? Do you have a diagnosis of autism, ADHD/ADD, sensory processing disorder (SPD), or concussion? 


If the answer is yes to any of the above, then the Safe and Sound Protocol may be for you. Applicable for those ages 18 months and up, including adults, the Safe and Sound Protocol has been demonstrated to help with the above or symptomology associated with such, with more specific areas of applicability constantly being discovered. Read on to learn more or contact me, Erika, directly at 403-472-8405 or through my contact form button below.

What is it, what does it do, and where's the proof?

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...).

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The protocol itself

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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 theory behind the protocol

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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.  

My Qualifications

 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, and the various options available to attempt to manage these. I did administer the protocol to my son also, with, for him, life-changing results.

What I provide

I provide the Safe and Sound Protocol as an alternative treatment for ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, sensory hypersensitivities, symptomology associated with concussion, anxiety associated with all of the above, and general autonomic nervous system balancing. I also provide the Safe and Sound Protocol as a support for those undergoing treatment for trauma. I provide to adults, youth, and children over the age of 18 months.  I have personally administered to clients ranging in age from 23 months to 47 years of age.  My services include pre and post protocol assessments in areas including anxiety, sensory processing, executive functioning, and social interactions, preparation for the protocol, administration of the protocol, and follow-up with written summary of the participant’s experience and recommendations for going forward. 


I provide remote administration of the protocol, thus, although I am located in Calgary, Alberta, and my primary administration area is Calgary and the surrounding area, I am able to provide services to those located elsewhere in Canada as well, including in remote areas.  For this remote delivery my clients require an internet connection and an internet connected device through which he or she can transmit both audio and video to me and through which he or she can receive the same from me.  E-mail and access to a computer are helpful. 


Subsequent to any informational conversations we might have prior to your decision to engage in the protocol, the typical SSP package timeline is as follows:

  1. A one hour intake meeting scheduled at least one week prior to the start of the actual administration of the protocol where we discuss your situation in detail, review your responses on the client intake form, explore hopes and reasonable expectations from the SSP, decide upon tracking measures, and decide upon an administration schedule. 
  2. Two to three days before the first listening session - a one half hour to one hour appointment to review the equipment (which would have either been picked up from my office or posted to you), listening session dos and don’ts, and the results from the initial completion of the tracking measures.
  3. Administration (a.k.a. the listening sessions).  The standard in-office schedule consists of five one-hour listening sessions on five consecutive days. For remote delivery for those with a diagnosis of autism or developmental delay, a history of shut-downs, a history of trauma, or under the age of 8 or between the ages of 14 and 22, the schedule is adjusted to ten ½-hour listening sessions spread over 11 days.  The listening sessions for those who are very young is typically adjusted even further, to 15-minute listening sessions, however, these are frequently done two per day instead of one per day, resulting in an overall administration length close to that of the standard adjusted schedule. Do note that the listening session appointments are slightly longer than the listening sessions themselves to allow for pre and post-session check-in. .  
  4. One to two weeks after the last listening session - a half hour follow-up appointment to check on how you are doing and provide advice for the upcoming weeks.
  5. Five to six weeks after completion of the last listening session - a one hour final follow-up  appointment to check in with you, review the results from the final completion of the tracking measures, discuss changes, and provide recommendations and suggestions for going forward.

Finished off with a written summation provided by myself approximately two weeks after the final follow-up appointment summarizing your incoming situation and changes which occurred over the course of the administration of the Safe and Sound Protocol and the 6 weeks following.


The total cost for all of the above for a first time through is typically between $1000 and $1300. Follow-up and repeat administrations are generally provided for a slightly lesser cost. Repeat administrations generally are not required to maintain effects but they may be desirable for those who may have established a more highly developed defensive state, such as those with a diagnosis of autism, to see effects in additional areas of impact, or expanded effects in those areas already impacted.... there is only so much a system can do at once!  


I do 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 for such collaborations are particular to the individual and dependent upon the split of responsibility between treatment professionals.

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Why me?

I am a Safe and Sound Protocol specialist, not a sensory specialist or a trauma specialist who has picked up the Safe and Sound Protocol as a small addition to their primary practice.  As a Safe and Sound Protocol specialist I have a broad understanding of the effects of the protocol on the entirety of an individual’s system.  I will not focus only on the sensory challenges, or the social engagement challenges, or the attention issues, I look at the entirety of the person’s system.  My area of specialty is not in diagnosing or treating particular disorders, it is in application of the Safe and Sound Protocol, tracking the changes that result, and providing safety for my clients during and after the protocol.  This intimacy with the protocol and the entirety of its effects is especially relevant for those with multiple symptomologies, such as those with diagnoses of autism, ADD, ADHD, or general autonomic nervous system imbalance.  Through me we look at how to support all the changes initiated by the SSP, across a breadth of areas. We don’t need to pick and choose. 

Musical Dreams Piano Studio SSP Client Testimonials

Precautions

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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.

A note

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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, or to ensure appropriate, supportive, responses to the individual's newly emergent behaviours. 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.

Can I call?

Please do!  Whether you are wondering about the SSP in general or about its relevance to you, you are welcome either to call me, Erika, at 1-403-472-8405, or to drop me a line via my contact form, and I will do my best to answer any questions you might have.  I am happy chat, and there is no expectation or obligation from these informational conversations.   

How do I sign up?

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Once you have decided the SSP is for you, give me a call (at 1-403-472-8405), or send me a note (via my contact form) and we’ll schedule your intake appointment, where we will discuss in detail the SSP and its relevance to you, explore your hopes and reasonable expectations for the SSP, decide on tracking measures, and schedule your administration appointments, and then you will be on your way... to freedom!

Musical Dreams Piano Studio SSP Client Testimonials

Female, mid-thirties, ADHD, anxiety

"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."

Female, late forties, system balancing

"I didn’t know what to expect from the SSP when I went in. I don’t have sensory issues, I wasn’t anxious to my knowledge, in fact, most people would say I manage my very hectic life quite well. I don’t have attention problems or any issues with social interactions. But I had been ill, for quite some time, and I felt out of balance. I had started yoga a year and a half ago and this helped, immensely, but because of physical limitations I was not always able to make it in. So I tried the SSP. And it was very cool. Right away I started feeling more social, which was strange as I am not anti-social. But I got out of my SSP session and just wanted to talk, but in a happy relaxed way, not in a frantic, stressed out way. In fact, everything was more relaxed, I even moved more relaxed. And then on day 2 or day 3 the big one hit. I felt like a huge weight had been taken off of me. Literally, a huge weight. As though I had been carrying a physical weight on my shoulders which all of a sudden was gone. It really felt like I was able to stand up straighter. And with that, I started to breathe. I had always breathed before, obviously, but now, my breaths, my regular breaths, were deeper and longer,  And everything was more relaxed, less tense. It was amazing. But the neatest thing was the core of calm that just came into being in my center. It came, and it stayed. Four months later, and it’s still there. Things get hectic, and I can feel it, I can just go back there and centre myself. When things aren’t hectic, I’m just floating along. And those breaths…. What a gift it is to be breathing deep. It is hard to describe."

Male, early twenties, autism spectrum disorder

"I am really happy I went through the SSP. It has made my life so much easier. Looking at faces is easier, I can talk to people, I do fewer shut downs, and I even get hungry sometimes."

Female, early forties, ADHD

" I decided to give SSP a try to see if it could help with sensory over sensitivities and some difficulties with audio processing. I was curious and cautiously optimistic with the program, but it really blew me away with how dramatic the changes were. I would highly recommend this program! 


For years, I have struggled with falling asleep and staying asleep. It often took 1-2 hrs for me to fall asleep and I usually woke several times during the night. Getting up in the morning was so hard, I would get out of bed exhausted and need to drink half a pot of coffee to start my day. After SSP my sleep patterns changed dramatically! I began to fall asleep in under 20 minutes and had a restful full night sleep. I would wake up rested and I even began to wake up before my alarm would go off. Having a good night’s sleep and waking up energized has been life changing! 


Before SSP I always wore sunglasses in the car and outside, even on cloudy days or into the evening, because the sun bothered me so much. I was also overly sensitive to fluorescent lights and totally avoided any kind of flashlights or strobe lights. A few weeks after the program I realized that I didn’t even have to wear my sunglasses on bright and sunny days. 


I've struggled with audio processing for years and it seemed to be getting worse. I was constantly aware of everyday background noises like refrigerators humming and clocks ticking. I had to keep the volume on my tv or radio extremely low or the sound would be overwhelming. I completely avoided concerts or loud events. I also had a hard time listening to phone messages because it took a lot of concentration to make out what people were saying. A few weeks after the SSP program I received a phone message with a long tracking code of numbers and letter. In the past, I would have had to have replayed the message dozen of times to make out the message but I got it on the first try! I found this absolutely amazing that something that had been so bothersome to deal with in the past was now an easy task. My overall ability to deal with loud noises also improved greatly, I can now listen to music in the car. "

Additional Resources

Videos

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 and treatment for concussion - The Dr. is in:  Concussion.  Using iLs' holistic therapies to help regain function, Mar . 1, 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 


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.



Books

 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".



Testimonials

 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"

Thank-you

Erika Gomez

Musical Dreams Piano Studio

1-403-472-8405