The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a five-day intervention designed to calm physiological and emotional states while enhancing social engagement and resilience. The intervention uses prosodic vocal music that has been filtered to train the middle ear muscles to focus in on the frequency envelope of human speech. It cultivates capacity in the autonomic nervous system to access relational and restorative states, enabling one to self-regulate and feel at ease in the body, and has shown significant results in improving:

Social and emotional difficulties

Auditory sensitivities

Anxiety and depression

Trauma-related symptoms

Stressors impacting social engagement

The SSP—an auditory, research-based protocol developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, Professor of Psychiatry at University of North Carolina, “Distinguished University Scientist” at Indiana University, and the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium—uses prosodic vocal music that has been filtered to train the middle ear muscles to focus in on the frequency envelope of human speech. The protocol involves the use of headphones specifically processed to the frequency of the human voice in five, one-hour listening sessions that are done in sequence. The SSP is currently in use by more than 1400 therapist and is backed by 20 years of research and clinical studies. It is influenced by Porge’s Polyvagal Theory (see more detail below).

The Safe and Sound Protocol is intended to accelerate the effectiveness of other modalities by preparing the client’s emotional and physiological state. Dr. Porges discusses two pathways to achieving progress with clients: the passive pathway and the active pathway. Since a calm autonomic/physiological state is necessary for health, growth and restoration, achieving it becomes the foundation of an effective therapy. We conceive of the SSP as a passive pathway therapy helping to change the client’s physiologic state through neuroception and opening the system to further neural change from other active pathway therapies that follow.

The SSP is best used together with other Active therapies.

Active pathway therapies include: speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive exercises, psychotherapy, dance therapy, listening therapy and many others.  iLs Associates involved in a beta test of the SSP have found that using the SSP can improve and accelerate progress of subsequent active pathway therapies.  

Changes from the SSP can be cumulative and self-perpetuating.  They will be enhanced by the social support the client receives and the learning opportunities they are presented with.  While you may notice some very positive changes while using the SSP, it is not meant to be used in isolation. The changes you see can potentiate neuroplasticity and functional change from subsequent therapy modalities.

I have done a SEGAN weekend training with Ana do Valle, the founder of SEGAN and I am a Certified Safe and Sound Practitioners under the guidance of Phil Karl and Heather Wright. Under their supervision, I am offering an integrative course blending the stabilizing and clarifying influence of traditional mindfulness/awareness meditation practices with the improved capacity to relate experienced by listening to the SSP sessions. I will also be offering a practice developed by Ana that accesses early childhood patterns while listening to the SSP. This combination helps gently repair early attachment trauma and cultivates the capacity for self-regulation and social engagement. 

Polyvagal Theory: articulates three different branches of the autonomic nervous system that evolved from very primitive vertebrates to mammals. And it’s quite interesting how the sequence evolved. First, you have a system that is really an ancient one, which is death feigning or immobilisation. Then it has a fight or flight system, a mobilisation system. Then finally, with mammals, you have what I call a social engagement system, which can detect features of safety and actually communicate them to another. When you trigger feelings of safety, the autonomic nervous system can help health restoration. In terms of dealing with a life threat, you most likely go into this feigning death, dissociative state. Immobilisation is the critical point of the experience of life-threat trauma events. It used to be assumed by trauma therapists that stress was a fight-flight reaction. But that’s not what the survivors of trauma described. They were describing this inability to move, the numbness of the body and functionally disappearing. And that’s what Polyvagal Theory describes.

About Ana Do Valle: Ana is an Occupational Therapist (OT) who has developed her studies in the areas of Anthroposophy, Sensory Processing, Somatic Experiencing, and Brainspotting. She has over 34 years of experience working in hospitals and schools, and runs a flourishing private practice in Boulder, CO. Ana also teaches internationally, including trainings in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Alaska, and the U.S. She has co-taught with Robert Scaer, author of The Trauma Spectrum, and has worked directly with Dr Peter Levine, the developer of Somatic Experiencing. Ana works with indigenous cultures on the subject of healing trauma. Through her multidisciplinary treatment approach, Ana is able to address the nuances of processing sensory input in order to create coherence in the nervous system and promote healing.

About Phil Karl: Phil completed undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Education in 1976 and earned his Master of Arts degree in Buddhist and Western Psychology from Naropa University in 1979. He began studying with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1977, and has developed and taught courses in meditation and Buddhism in the US, Canada, and Europe. Phil has taught as adjunct faculty at Naropa University and served as a Buddhist prison chaplain in state and federal penitentiary systems. In 2003 he completed the traditional Tibetan three-year meditation retreat in the Sopa Choling Retreat Center, at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

About Heather Wright: Heather is an Anthropologist and Archaeologist earning her BA in Anthropology in 1990 and an MA in American Studies in 2002. She began studying Buddhism formally in 1986 and is an authorized meditation instructor working closely with Tibetan Buddhist teachers in Crestone, Colorado. She began training as a Somatic Integrationist in 2006, earning certificates in Rolfing, Somatic Experiencing, Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Source Point Therapy. In 2009 she founded Compassionate Rolfing, an integrative and embodied healing arts practice in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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