Safe and Sound Protocol
A young clinician found his perspective transformed after studying Foundations of Polyvagal-Informed Practice. Previously a devotee to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), learning the science of feeling reshaped his outlook on his practice - and on his life.
The process of integrating the polyvagal theory into action presented a set of challenges Jagmeet knew he needed support to achieve. Over the course of 4-months, we met bi-weekly to discuss effective techniques for integrating theory into practice, explored clinical questions and offered a guided experience in delivering the Safe & Sound Protocol.
After more than 8 years of intensive study, Jagmeet was proudly launching his clinical psychology practice. He was quickly realizing that the standard tools provided during study weren’t necessarily the ones that resonated the most with his clients - or him.
After completing Foundations of Polyvagal-Informed Practice with Deb Dana, Jagmeet realized he needed to embody the science of feeling safe before he could effectively bring it to his work. The more he practiced the techniques in class, the more he realized he wasn’t familiar with the physiological sensations associated with his emotions.
His peers had also raved about the merits of the Safe and Sound Protocol, but he was unsure how this tactical tool would fit into his practice.
Jagmeet reached out to me after he completed the Foundations course, and asked if I’d be open to offering consultation. As one of the Facilitators on the course, I’d frequently interacted with Jagmeet and we established a good working relationship. It felt very natural, and very safe, to continue working together in one-on-one consultation.
We planned to meet bi-weekly over a 4-month period to cultivate Jagmeet’s somatic awareness, explore clinical cases, and both deliver the Safe & Sound Protocol and provide guidance on best practices for delivery.
Many of Jagmeet’s peers had expressed apprehension about the intensive nature of the Safe & Sound Protocol. It requires 5 consecutive days of sessions plus emergency care, should the need arise. Offering the protocol can really throw off the cadence of private practice off if not well planned. Plus, if clients experiencing dysregulation need additional support, a clinician needs to make themselves available for ad hoc emergency care. It seemed like lots of things could go wrong. As part of a research team using the SSP in a medical environment, Jagmeet knew I could provide tools, tips and expertise to make the SSP a successful part of his practice.
During the first 2-months of consultation, Jagmeet and I met biweekly with a specific focus on cultivating physiological awareness. Paired with weekly homework assignments including mapping, movement and awareness, Jagmeet slowly started to recognize how sensations aligned with his nervous system responses. It took time, nurturing and patience. At the end, he expressed fascination with this new connection to his physical form.
Once he established this connection, adding the polyvagal theory into his practice felt like a natural step. If he could explain how sensations told him a story, he could help his clients understand their experiences.
During the second 2-months of consultation, we created steps to introduce the theory into his practice. We started with clinical questions. By identifying how the theory could apply in specific situations, Jagmeet started to see opportunity in almost every moment. The next step was creating plans for a few clients who’d expressed interest in somatic experiencing. Jagmeet embraced the principles of creating safety by openly expressing his desire to try something new, and all the clients he introduced the concept of the PVT to were curious to explore more. His practice quickly became notable for its focus on somatics and nervous system tuning
The Safe & Sound Protocol, like learning to map his nervous system, was deeply impactful for Jagmeet. He found himself ‘existentially tired’ after his daily listening sessions, and slightly irritable the morning after. Yet, he found himself more deeply attuned to his clients, feeling less aggravated in general, and more connected to his physiology. While he was uncomfortable during the completion of the protocol, he was surprised at the depth of the changes in his disposition and body. Jagmeet was open to new ideas, even more curious than usual, and he found his ability to stay calm under pressure remarkable. His body felt less rigid, and he was curious to explore movement in new ways.
When Jagmeet started offering the protocol to his clients, he committed to only 2 SSP clients a month. This allowed him to customize his schedule for SSP clients, ensuring that each client’s autonomic nervous system was held in safety. Jagemeet also adapted the tools provided in our consultation sessions to understand his client’s experiences and outcomes.
According to Jagmeet, consultation was pivotal to building his own polyvagal-informed practice.