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8 Things to Know Before Trying the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)

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I’m grateful every single day for my SSP experience — but there are things I think you should know before you try it.

When I decided to try the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), I was understandably quite skeptical.

But after trying so many different therapeutic modalities and psychotropic medications, I had hit a wall in my healing, particularly with my complex trauma (C-PTSD).

If you’re unfamiliar, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) is a music-based intervention that supports nervous system regulation.

This specially filtered playlist engages the vagus nerve via the muscles of the middle ear, in essence “encouraging” our nervous systems to tune into signals of safety. This can meaningfully improve our well-being and mental health when utilized prudently.

I tried SSP not expecting much, but hopeful that if I could feel a little safer within myself, all the therapy I was attempting to do might hit differently.

SSP changed my life for the better — in fact, I would go so far as to say it gave me my life back. And, I believe that some folks who are trying this modality are often underprepared when they do.

I’ve created this list to offer some personal opinions on SSP and what I wish I’d known before trying it.

If you’re looking for additional resources about the SSP, check out our series:

🔍 What is the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)? Is it Right For Me?

🔍 Does Safe and Sound Protocol Work? SSP Review for C-PTSD (And More)

1. A good practitioner will honor your pace and follow your lead.

If the goal of any nervous system intervention is to help us feel safe, our autonomy and our ability to consent needs to be centered.

I’ve heard painful stories, where practitioners insisted that a client listen to the playlist at a pace that turned out to be too fast (and therefore overwhelmed them), or even too slow, where it felt so restrictive that it landed more like control than it did a collaboration between client and practitioner.

A good SSP practitioner is going to treat you like the expert of your own experience.

They’ll encourage you to take things slowly at first, repeatedly check in about how things are feeling, offer you grounding tools to ensure you feel supported throughout, and they’ll work hard to earn and keep your trust.

When looking for an SSP practitioner, consider asking:

  • How will I know if we’re moving too quickly? What will we do if I want or need to change the pace?
  • What signs do you look for to see if a client is flooded, triggered, or overwhelmed?
  • What’s the best way to give you feedback if I’m struggling in some way? Is there a gesture, a "safe word," or something else we can agree upon?
  • What tools and support do you offer clients to ensure they’re grounded throughout the experience?
  • What types of clients are a good fit for you? What types of clients aren’t?

It can also be helpful to familiarize yourself with the different trauma responses that one can experience when they’re dysregulated, including responses that you don't typically experience, as this can shift through the SSP.

Increasing our awareness of when we’re triggered can help us vocalize to our practitioner when we’ve ventured outside of our “window of tolerance,” which is crucial for determining the pacing at which you listen.

2. All of the work you did leading up to the SSP will impact your experience.

The analogy that I like to use to describe SSP is likening it to a rain cloud.

All of the work I’d done prior to SSP — all the therapies I worked through, all the introspection and personal discovery, all the coping tools I developed, all the vulnerability I’d practiced in my relationships — planted their own seeds.

SSP was a passing rain cloud that provided the right circumstances for those seeds to finally break through the ground and flourish.

Of course, for some folks, doing too much, too fast will have the opposite effect. Like a storm cloud, a heavy downpour could wash away the soil, flooding the seeds instead of providing the right nourishment for them to sprout.

And like plants, the seeds of our own growth will not all grow at the same rate. Some will break through the ground immediately, as if they had been waiting right at the surface. But some are deeper, and need more time to trust and to sprout.

SSP doesn’t remove the need to tend to that garden of our growth, either. Rain can also cause unwelcome weeds to grow and pests to gather. We’ll still need to integrate these experiences, and engage compassionately with whatever comes to the surface.

With the right cadence and the right tools, we can tend to the weeds and pests, and finally witness what happens when our many seeds are given the right support to grow.

3. If dissociation is something you rely on to cope or function, the SSP can be jarring.

If there were any “warning” I’d attach to the SSP, it would be that if you’re someone for whom dissociation is a major coping tool — so, being checked out from your emotions and bodily sensations is protecting you in an important way — the SSP can be an intense experience, particularly if you go too quickly.

For trauma survivors especially, I think many of us are going into the SSP with something of an emotional backlog. There’s a lot we haven’t been able to move through yet, and it can hit us when we aren’t expecting it.

To be clear, I didn’t find my experience of the SSP to be wildly destabilizing or retraumatizing!

Even with the SSP stirring things up, I felt more resourced to process it all as it came up. But I think this is what makes a trusted practitioner, reliable support system, and some nervous system education all incredibly important, so you can be prepared for the shifts that may happen.

I’d strongly encourage some education around the different trauma responses, and I’d be prepared to cope with all of themespecially the ones that feel more “opposite” to how you usually react!

It’s possible that the stress responses you’ve learned to suppress in the past (or were less favored) will come back online, and if we’re not prepared to ground ourselves in those moments, we might end up struggling quite a bit.

That doesn't mean we need to be fearful, though! Some of my most powerful moments during the SSP happened exactly because something difficult surfaced, and I was resourced differently enough (with my care team and through the SSP itself) to move through it.

So rather than trying to prevent discomfort, what would it take for you to embrace it? Or at the very least, how can you increase your sense of trust just enough so that you don’t have to panic if something comes up?

Instead of fearing dysregulation, it’s worth exploring how we’ll keep ourselves safe, and to make a plan with our care team if things go sideways.

This is true of all therapies, of course — especially trauma modalities — but I think some folks underestimate the impact the SSP can have!

4. Even the good stuff can be destabilizing — so be sure to have a solid support system during and after.

I half-jokingly describe the SSP as “the best existential crisis I’ve ever had.” If you’ve read my personal review of the SSP, you’ll know that this intervention not only positively impacted my mental health, but it also made me question who I even am.

I am still on that journey, to be honest, five months later.

My day-to-day life is radically different post-SSP — in so many ways, it’s unrecognizable when compared to the life I was living before.

While I am beyond grateful for all of these changes, I also recognize it has been destabilizing in itself to be experiencing my life in such a profoundly different way.

Even good changes can feel different, and different can be hard!

It’s taken a lot of additional therapy to make sense of and integrate all the shifts I've experienced (like what it means to be a happier and more relaxed person, or to unpack the assumptions I made about my own capacity for healing).

There’s also been grief in recognizing that what I needed in my recovery wasn’t available to me until now.

And for the friends of mine that have gone through or are going through the SSP — who I’ve been so lucky to witness through this process — I’ve noticed how cathartic it’s been to be able to talk through these changes, too.

Because even though these changes can be overwhelmingly positive, they are still overwhelming, and often challenge core beliefs we have about ourselves, our recoveries, and our futures.

This is also why I believe that my practitioner, Jess Jackson, has the right idea by offering the SSP in a group setting. There is some powerful affirmation that can happen when there are others having this experience alongside us!

I'd encourage anyone who does the Safe and Sound Protocol to have an accessible support system of some kind. Because even if you have a totally positive experience, integrating these big shifts is often still disorienting!

5. The SSP can (and probably will) shake up your relationships.

The SSP is believed to affect our social engagement system, which can impact our sense of trust and our communication with others.

It can also help us regulate emotions more effectively, which can help us stay with conflicts that might be too triggering to endure otherwise. This in itself can provide a lot of clarity in our relationships.

But anecdotally, as someone who underwent the SSP and has interviewed many others who have, a very common story I’ve heard is what I’m describing as the “boundaries bender.”

Maybe it’s because we aren’t fawning (people-pleasing) as a trauma response, but I’ve personally noticed that many folks who undergo the SSP share a much lower tolerance for disrespect and self-betrayal. We become more assertive, and a lot of the self-advocacy that we repressed before comes raging to the surface.

To be clear, I think this is a very good thing. And, I think it can be helpful to know this ahead of time.

I know someone who did the SSP and filed for divorce in the middle of it. I personally went “no contact” with my parents by the end of the playlist. In both cases, these were necessary (and in some ways, inevitable) steps in our healing journeys! But it can be a lot to navigate if we aren’t feeling supported.

This goes both ways, too! The level of trust, connection, and intimacy I have in other close relationships has been amazing to witness. My social life has flourished, in part because I am showing up as a more authentic, grounded, and emotionally available version of myself.

That said, I’d do what you can to ensure your support system can accommodate any big shifts in your core relationships, should they happen.

I’d also emphasize that this isn’t unique to the Safe and Sound Protocol. Any personal growth can be disruptive to our relationships, especially those relationships that no longer serve us!

6. The changes that happen with the SSP won’t always be familiar to you — some may feel completely new.

Many of the changes with SSP that I experienced were disorienting because they were things I’d never experienced before, or they were basically the opposite of how I used to react to situations.

One of the most important shifts I experienced during the SSP happened during my first ten minutes of listening, which I’ve referred to as my “elevator moment.”

When my first listening session began, I was incredibly anxious. This wasn’t unusual for me; being tightly wound was basically my default state up until that point.

I had a flurry of anxieties come to the surface: Was the volume too low, and if it was, did that mean this wouldn’t work? Were my headphones on the correct setting? Was I sure? If my phone screen shuts off while listening, will the music stop? Was I supposed to be feeling anything yet? What about now? How will I know if it’s working?

But then, after a few minutes of panicking, something strange happened to me: It felt like I was on an elevator.

The music reminded me of the kind of music you might listen to passively on an elevator, simple and comforting and unremarkable, as you wait to be delivered to your floor.

And then something clicked in my mind: In a way, I was on a metaphorical elevator at that moment, too.

Because just then, there was nothing for me to be “doing.” The music was playing and I was simply listening. My only job was to receive and wait to arrive.

I didn’t need to react to anything or change anything around me. My part was done; I turned on the music, and now all that was left to do was wait and receive.

And that’s when it hit me: All I was truly responsible for in this moment was letting myself be carried.

Accompanying that realization was a strange, unfamiliar feeling: I felt oddly… secure. I was able to assess the situation, grasp what was necessary to react to and what didn’t warrant a response, and then ease into the present moment, knowing that there was nothing left for me to do.

That feeling of inner security — being able to assess what does and does not need my attention, and then settling when my part is “complete” — has stayed with me ever since.

I didn’t know that I was capable of feeling safe within myself, and I’d never in my life experienced my anxiety being soothed just by recognizing what was and wasn’t within my control. In fact, prior to the SSP, the opposite was true: the more “out of control” a situation appeared, the more my anxiety would escalate.

In most situations that might have caused me to panic before, I can now acknowledge and hold the anxiety, understand that it doesn’t require any action, and center myself. In doing so, I usually find a kind of calm in the midst of everything.

It has felt like discovering a secret room in my home that I didn’t know existed, except in this case, the home is my body and my mind.

This “elevator moment” set the tone for the rest of my SSP experience, offering me a centered place within myself — one that I can physically and emotionally locate and return to, and one that I’d never experienced before.

7. Healing doesn’t have to come from suffering, and it doesn’t always have to be ‘hard work.

I spent over a decade working so, so hard in therapy.

I took an entire pharmacy’s worth of pills. I did everything I was told to do if I wanted to see improvements in my mental health — at different times, I was the vegan pilates nut, the meditation app aficionado, and I took the trendy supplements and questionable herbs that, in hindsight, were pretty shady at best.

If mental health were dictated by someone’s effort and will, I should have had at least a solid B+ here.

Yet as recently as a few years ago, I was in the emergency room, struggling to explain to a social worker who wouldn’t let me keep my shoelaces that despite everything I had tried, nothing was getting better.

But what the SSP has taught me is that maybe healing isn’t supposed to be quite this hard.

Maybe we aren’t living in some kind of “healing meritocracy,” where those of us who work the hardest will see the most results. Maybe the “bootstraps” approach to mental health and self-care is actually failing us.

Maybe healing can be something else.

Maybe it can be gentle and soft. Maybe it can be passive — something we receive instead of something we earn.

Maybe instead of pushing the same boulder up the hill over and over again, hoping that we’ll someday be strong enough to get it to the top, we can find a way of making the boulder lighter… or even stop pushing altogether.

I want to plant a single seed: What if good things don’t have to be “earned” through suffering and overwork? What if softness doesn’t have to be “deserved” and this process can just be… soft?

What if healing doesn’t have to be so damn hard?

What if the impossible amount of effort your healing seemed to require of you is actually a sign that something is wrong with the care and tools being offered to you, and not with you as a person?

8. There’s a lot we can’t know about SSP right now — and some skepticism is completely understandable.

In the spirit of transparency, it feels important to acknowledge that there are things we don’t know about the SSP, and things we can’t know about the SSP (yet).

Unyte, the platform that distributes the playlist, does offer a lot of comprehensive information about the theory behind SSP and case studies on its website, which I’ve found incredibly helpful. Most people also aren’t aware that you can access the patent itself online, which goes into much more detail about how the playlist is filtered and sequenced.

But the Safe and Sound Protocol is still new — the patent was applied for in late 2017 and granted in 2018 — which will make some folks feel weary about trying it, especially in the absence of more credible and specific research (think: peer reviewed, double blind, replicable, large and diverse sample sizes, specific to the different “conditions” it may target, etc).

Being skeptical of any therapy or treatment is important, especially with newer modalities, where the long-term impacts can’t be known until more time has passed, and the applications may be thought of as more experimental, at least for now.

And, this is still in the context of a field that's still evolving in its understanding of what is and isn’t true about how the brain and body works.

It’s important to recognize that every therapeutic intervention comes with risk, uncertainty, and in many cases, unknowable mechanisms at play — even with the interventions we most take for granted.

For example, even with nearly a quarter of adults in the US taking psychotropic medications, the drug-based approach to mental health (and its efficacy overall) is still not fully understood and even contested. Psychotherapy is effective, but how we measure efficacy and what makes for “good therapy” is something clinicians and researchers are still puzzling through.

Two things can be true: New modalities inherently carry more risk and less clarity around what the risks may be, and even robust research doesn’t necessarily safeguard us against all risks, nor does it guarantee that we fully or correctly understand how or why something is helpful.

It’s completely valid if you don’t want to try an intervention that doesn’t have a specific kind of research available!

And it’s also completely valid if you take things like lived experience — like personal reviews and case studies — into consideration, or if you find polyvagal theory to be compelling enough to try this specific application of it.

Ultimately, you get to decide what level of risk is appropriate for you to take, and how you assess for risk.

And I hope that you feel empowered to make the decision that feels right for you, regardless of what anyone on the Internet has to say about it (yes, including me!).

In my experience, it helps to be clear on what constitutes a “good enough” choice for us personally, while recognizing that there aren’t clear right and wrong answers here.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I’ve offered some questions below to help you determine what a “good enough” intervention or treatment might mean for you.

With SSP being a relatively new modality, you might ask yourself:

  1. How do I feel about polyvagal theory? Does it track with how I understand my own experiences of mental health?
  2. Is the evidence available to me “good enough”? Do I hold some types of evidence (scholarly research, vetted reviews, personal testimonies, my therapist’s opinion) as being more valuable than others, and if so, what are the limitations of that approach? Do I feel good about this standard?
  3. How will I approach the factors that are within my control, like selecting a practitioner and the setting I undergo SSP in? What do I need to feel confident in these choices?
  4. How will I be taking care of myself through this process? Am I supported if I struggle in a different way than usual?
  5. What, if anything, has worked well for me in the past, and what hasn’t? Is there wisdom from past experiences that could be relevant here?

Reminder: You Can Trust You

I know many of us (trauma survivors especially!) have been conditioned to ignore our gut as a source of truth or guidance. And it may not feel accessible to you right now, and that’s okay!

But if in this process, you get a strong signal pointing you one way or the other, I would encourage you to take it seriously.

When making my own SSP decision, I did a good amount of research and I talked to a lot of smart and trusted people — but what propelled me forward was a gut feeling I had when I met with my practitioner, Jess (@SoftPathHealing).

It felt right. And I knew that, if at any point it stopped feeling right, Jess would support me in whatever I needed from there.

In a way, my healing journey with the SSP didn’t start with listening to the playlist — it began with listening to myself.

So if your gut is pulling you in one direction or another, please know that you can trust yourself to make this decision, and you can trust yourself to navigate whatever comes next.

Final Tips for a Supportive SSP Experience

  1. Find a trusted practitioner: A good practitioner is someone who follows your lead, is attuned to your unique needs, and helps you to stay grounded.
  2. Don’t go it alone: Create a diverse support system, including loved ones, support groups, care providers, self-care practices, and more.
  3. Learn about the nervous system: Ask your practitioner for resources, explore the Unyte “What is SSP?” website, and get familiar with the different trauma responses and coping tools for each.

How do I find an SSP practitioner?

At this time, the most direct way to find a practitioner for the Safe and Sound Protocol is to be matched with one by Unyte, the company that distributes the playlist, through this form.

The SSP is currently a conjunctive intervention.

This means it is recommended for folks who are undergoing therapy. The SSP can enhance the therapeutic experience, while therapy can be supportive in integrating any shifts that happen with the SSP.

If you need a therapist, you can browse Alma’s directory of over 20,000 licensed clinicians, some of whom may be able to offer the SSP upon request.

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Sam Dylan Finch
Sam Dylan Finch

About the Author

For nearly a decade, Sam has harnessed the power of digital media to empower readers, challenge stigma, and make mental health content accessible to all. He currently works as Content Marketing Manager for Alma; he previously worked as Content Marketing Director at Oar Health, as well as at Inflow – ADHD, Healthline, Psych Central, and Upworthy.

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