Emotional and physiological state are critical to how we approach the task at hand. So when a client has better state control, not only can they be more socially engaged, they are more open to therapy. Better state regulation improves therapeutic outcomes.
This non-invasive intervention involves listening to music that has been processed specifically to retune the nervous system (regulating state) to introduce a sense of safety and the ability to socially engage. This allows the client to better interpret not only human speech, but, importantly, the emotional meaning of language. Once interpersonal interactions improve, spontaneous social behaviors and an enhanced ability to learn, self-regulate and engage are often seen. The SSP is available to professionals only – please see training information below.
What is the SSP?
Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the SSP is a five-day intervention designed to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity while enhancing social engagement and resilience. By calming the physiological and emotional state, the door is opened for improved communication and more successful therapy.
Research-based therapy showing significant results in just five days in the following areas:
- Social and emotional difficulties
- Auditory sensitivities
- Anxiety and trauma related challenges
- Stressors that impact social engagement
- Calms the emotional and physiological state by improving vagal regulation of the heart and improving auditory functions
- Addresses difficulties in social communication
- One hour of vocal music per day for five consecutive days, may be implemented in 30-minute segments
- May be implemented by clinician, assistant, caregiver or self-administered in clinic or home
- Quick and easy to administer
- Accelerates subsequent therapies
How does it work?
Based on Dr. Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, the program is derived from nearly four decades of research on the relationship between the autonomic nervous system and social-emotional processes. It is designed to stimulate nervous system regulation by exercising and systematically challenging the auditory system with specifically processed music.
The music trains the auditory pathways by focusing on the frequency envelope of human speech. As the client learns to process these speech-related frequencies, they improve the functioning of two cranial nerves that are important for promoting overall social behavior. Cranial Nerve VII (Facial Nerve) helps clients focus on human voice and tune out irrelevant frequencies. Cranial Nerve X (Vagus Nerve) enables self-soothing and autonomic regulation.
Following successful completion of the intervention, individuals will be better able to focus in school, therapy, and everyday life and experience a calmed emotional and physiological state. This is based on studies that suggest that skills such as attention, state regulation and the ability to engage socially will be enhanced.
Client Experiences with the SSP
Sophie is a 6 1/2-year old girl who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was five. Her Occupational Therapist was introduced to the SSP in July as part of a feasibility trial and immediately thought of Sophie who was very anxious and seemed constantly in a state of threat. Her fear prevented her from trying many things, as they seemed impossible to her. The extreme over-arousal of her sympathetic nervous system also affected her learning, her speech and her ability to communicate effectively.
These pre- and post-SSP videos capture the marked decrease in her level of fear and the improvement in her confidence and demeanor. Sophie’s mother is overjoyed with the changes she’s noticing in Sophie:
- Her facial expression is now relaxed and she seems less anxious
- Her spontaneous speech has escalated (“Her language is improving like crazy!” – Sophie’s Mom)
- She’s exhibiting prosocial behavior (“It’s not all about her anymore.” – Sophie’s Mom)
- Her emotional regulation is much improved (“Sophie is now sitting in the group at circle time and listening intently. She even raised her hand to ask a question!” – Sophie’s teacher.)
David is a nine-year old with Down’s Syndrome who has had frequent ear infections. He has few spoken words, but attempts to communicate through a combination of words, sounds and gestures. He is a member of a large and supportive family who described the following concerns prior to beginning the SSP.
- Severe anxiety in noisy and/or crowded environments
- Significant over-responsivity to sounds
- Lack of consistent response to requests or name calling
- Poor sleep quantity and quality
David had an extraordinary response to the SSP! His mother tearfully expressed her gratitude for the intervention as she reported the changes she and her family have noticed.
- After Day One of the program, David slept throughout the night for the first time. Prior to this, I had to stay near the bed until he fell into a restless sleep, awakening MANY times each night.
- Since completion of the SSP, David has been much more interactive with other children. He approaches others to join in play or conversation. And he sings and dances frequently.
- Prior to the SSP, David refused to go to family gatherings or parties. He would hide in the bathroom away from all the activity. Over the holidays, he attended a large family gathering and even danced!
- When I call him from another room in the house, he now quickly responds to his name as and asks “yes Mom?”. This is a complete change from before completing the SSP.
- Every year in our community, we have a well-attended large holiday parade complete with floats, high school bands, fire and police department activities, musical guests and participation by other community organizations culminating in an elaborate firework display. Every year, our family attempts to attend, but if we are able to go at all, David usually sits in the family van wearing headphones watching movies. This year, for the very first time, he stood near our family outside and watched every float, band and musician and even cheered during the firework finale!
Two Peer-Reviewed Studies (involving 292 children)
In this peer-reviewed study, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who used an early version of the SSP experienced significant improvements in emotional organization, listening, spontaneous speech and hearing sensitivities.
In a second peer-reviewed study, higher functioning individuals with ASD were tested using an early version of the SSP. The study showed that auditory processing and state regulation improved following the intervention.
3 clinical trials in progress
- To evaluate the effectiveness of the LPP/SSP in children with a trauma history. Funded by the Australian Childhood Foundation.
- To evaluate the effectiveness of LPP/SSP in people with ADD who have difficulties with autonomic and/or behavioral regulation. In cooperation with: ADD Centre and Biofeedback Institute of Toronto.
- To evaluate the effectiveness of LPP/SSP in emotionally disturbed and learning-challenged young people who have difficulties with autonomic and/or behavioral regulation. Funded by the Reiss-Davis Child Study Center of Vista Del Mar.
“Collectively, the data from the current trials and Porges et al. provide convergent preliminary support that LPP (precursor to the SSP) enhances function of the Polyvagal “social engagement system” manifested in improved auditory processing, reduced auditory hypersensitivities, increased vagal regulation of the heart, and increased spontaneous social behaviors (e.g., sharing).”
The Polyvagal Hypothesis: Common Mechanisms Mediating Autonomic Regulation, Vocalizations and Listening
In this chapter written by Dr. Porges and Dr. Gregory Lewis, the connection is made between the Polyvagal Theory and the Social Engagement System. It provides the scientific basis of the SSP.
The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation
This book compiles for the first time, Stephen W. Porges’ decades of research. A leading expert in developmental psychophysiology and developmental behavioral neuroscience, Porges is the mind behind the groundbreaking Polyvagal Theory, which has startling implications for the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and autism. Adopted by clinicians around the world, the Polyvagal Theory has provided exciting new insights into the way our autonomic nervous system unconsciously mediates social engagement, trust and intimacy.
“[O]ne of the most important books written on the nervous system in the last fifty years. Porges’s ambitious, meticulous, synthetic theory provides a missing link between mind and the nervous system. It also helps explain, in fine detail, how our individual nervous systems influence, and are influenced by, our interactions with others. Suddenly we understand things novelists have described for centuries: how it is that a facial expression, a gesture, a certain tone of voice, can trigger a radical mental reorganization, and lead to engagement, and how our mental and nervous system states shift. Porges’ studies and his theory of the social vagus represents a major advance in human knowledge, and is already improving the practice of psychotherapy and mind-body medicine.”
— Norman Doidge, MD, author, The Brain That Changes Itself