The Safe and Sound Protocol

The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) developed by Stephen Porges PhD is best described as an auditory vagus nerve stimulator. It is evidence-based, clinically proven and backed by decades of research.

By activating and toning the vagus nerve, SSP sends a strong signal of safety to the entire nervous system.

The vagus nerve is the primary nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for rest and digest, and for regulating the heartbeat and breath. When the vagus is functionally compromised by trauma, we are more likely to live in states of fight/flight or collapse. This can lead to persistent anxiety, difficulty in relationships, sleep and gut disorders, auditory hypersensitivity and more. Low vagal tone results in poor heart rate variability (HRV), known in medicine to be a reliable predictor of disease states.

When the vagus nerve is stimulated, the body is better able to resume homeostasis and symptoms naturally resolve themselves. Higher vagal tone results in higher heart rate variability and better health overall. Surgical vagal stimulators have been developed with amazing results, but it’s not necessary to undergo a surgical procedure: we have access to the vagus directly through the auditory system.

In an SSP session, the recipient wears headphones and listens to music that has been specially modified to act as a neural exercise. It gives a “workout” to the muscles of the middle ear, which are part of the same neural pathway as the vagus nerve. How do we know this? Through research, but also intuitively: think about the difference in effect between a mother’s lullaby versus a person shouting. One has an inherent calming effect, the other is likely to drive sympathetic activation (fight or flight). SSP is music modified to create an effect on the nervous system similar to that of a mother’s lullaby, yet amplified to strengthen the signal.

Multiple clinical studies found that five 1-hour-long SSP listening sessions resulted in lasting improvements in vagal tone, resulting in:

  • better digestion
  • improved sleep
  • greater capacity to relate to others
  • reduced auditory sensitivity (hyperacusis)
  • greater tolerance for experiences that previously triggered anxiety

Since being studied in clinical settings for autism and chronic pain, the SSP has become more widely used for applications in trauma work. It is not necessary to complete the protocol in only five sessions, and in fact this may be too intense for some clients. With SSP, less is more – we want to stretch the system, not stress the system! Some clients may prefer to take it slowly and spread the SSP out over 10 or even more sessions. After listening, a person may feel tired, and this is a good sign: it means the neural exercise is working! Best results are usually seen a few weeks after completion of the protocol.

SSP is not a quick fix or a standalone therapy, but when combined with a supportive environment that enables proper maintenance of the changes being made within the nervous system, clients can see results equivalent to six months or more of regular somatic therapy.

Delivery Options

I offer Safe and Sound Core as an affordable add-on to somatic integration sessions (both in-person and remote). The Core program is sequential and progressive. SSP Balance, helpful for maintenance, is available after SSP Core completion for two weeks at no additional charge. See pricing here or click to schedule an appointment.

I also offer SSP Core home rental for qualified clients who want to complete it at home, or to use with children who have sensory processing difficulties, behavioral regulation issues, or autism. Home rental includes one-on-one coaching to ensure proper execution of the program. Use these links to arrange home rental for yourself / for your child(ren).

You can enroll in a monthly subscription to SSP Connect Classical & SSP Balance: the ‘Lite’ versions of SSP which can be played ambient on speakers or your phone. SSP Connect and Balance tracks are designed to produce a calming and settling effect without the intense neural exercise of SSP Core. Find out more and sign up for a FREE trial here.

If you need help deciding which option for SSP delivery would be best, please contact me.

Polyvagal Theory

Safe and Sound trains the nervous system toward a Ventral Vagal state (see below). Learning and supportive social connection can only happen from a ventral-vagal state. State regulation happens unconsciously, meaning we don’t always have a choice over our neurological state — and even less so with a history of trauma or certain disorders such as autism.

Clinical Results

These are the tabulated results from two clinical studies that compared the SSP intervention to unfiltered music, and to headphones only (as a control). As you can see, the results were significant for the SSP intervention (filtered music).

SSP Connect Subscription

The Safe and Sound ‘Lite’ (now called Connect) programs are much less intense than the core program.

  • Classical Connect is full-spectrum classical music filtered to create a calming and relaxing effect.
  • Balance Connect is the same playlist as the Core, but without the intense neural exercise aspect. It is calming and balancing without the full vagal re-set.

Both programs can be played ambient on speakers or from your smartphone, no headphones required. (Over-ear headphones are fine, but earbuds are not recommended as they can negatively affect the muscles being targeted in the middle ear). It is also not necessary to listen to the tracks in a particular order as it would be with the core program. SSP Connect programs were created to prepare your system for the Core program, as well as help maintain positive changes after completing it, but are also suited for anytime use! When played ambient, the music benefits children and pets, too.

Try SSP Connect for one week FREE after which you will automatically be charged just $11.99 per month. (PayPal will redirect you to a page with instructions to set up your subscription.) You may cancel your subscription at any time by contacting me or using the button below. Start your free trial today!

(after setting up your subscription, please allow PayPal to redirect you for further instructions!)