Safe and Sound Protocol
The Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a therapeutic intervention designed to retune the nervous system, through the ear, so that it can better perceive cues of safety from others and the environment. The program consists of one-hour listening sessions for five consecutive days. It involves listening to music that has been filtered to emphasise the frequencies of the human voice, frequencies that the nervous system perceives as safe. Another aim is to improve the effectiveness of other therapies by promoting more easeful social engagement. Signs that the nervous system are tuned into signals of danger are hypervigilance, inattention, difficulties regulating emotional state, anxiety, auditory or light sensitivities, and social difficulties.
The body has three important ways of creating safety and it resorts to each in the following order. First is the social engagement system, whereby the body seeks connection with others to feel safe, safety in numbers. The second is the sympathetic system that’s involved with the fight or flight response, to neutralise danger or move away from it. The third, dorsal vagal, resorts to collapse or shutdown in the face of perceived life-threat, feigning death so that the threat leaves. So when there are no reliable safe people to connect with the nervous system resorts to these last two systems.
The fight/flight and shutdown responses are very useful for our survival and activate during stressful or life-threatening situations. Problems can arise when the threat has passed and the nervous system is still chronically guarded as if the threat were still around. This can make ordinary things appear dangerous, like being constantly worried something bad will happen, or else dangerous things could appear safe, like engaging in risky behaviour with little awareness of the danger. The goal of SSP is to restore the nervous system to a state where it can again tap into the social engagement system and find safety in others and the environment.
The SSP works by activating the muscles of the middle ear that help to filter out low frequency background noise. The muscles of the middle ear contract, tightening the ear drum so that it picks up higher frequency sounds. The middle ear muscles connect to the autonomic nervous system through the vagus nerve, the system that helps regulate all our important bodily functions. The vagus nerve acts as a “brake” on the heart, slowing it to calm the body. The study of the interaction between these systems is known as The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Stephen Porges.
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