About the Provider
Name: Alycia O’Connell
Disciplines/credentials: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor III (CADC III)
Modalities: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), mindfulness, Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)
Kim presents with high levels of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in high blood pressure. Her doctors wanted her to get on medication, but she first wanted to try managing her stress and getting her blood pressure under control on her own through therapy without medication. Her support system did not think it would make enough of a difference to avoid medication, but agreed to allow her to try. Kim’s siblings and father are all on blood pressure medication.
Kim lives with her spouse and child who has health complications. Their home has been highly stressful due to online schooling, managing work and home schooling. Kim and her spouse are trying to take precautions to keep their daughter safe during and after quarantine with her vulnerable health.
At the beginning of treatment, Kim reported her goals were to lower her blood pressure, effectively manage stress and anxiety, and attend to self-care. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, and her symptoms have been perpetuated due to complications brought on by COVID-19 and needing to keep her daughter safe. Before this treatment, Kim was in therapy for postpartum depression.
Implementation of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)
The SSP was delivered to Kim remotely with daily check-ins around her response to the listening therapy so the session length could be adjusted accordingly. The first session was started jointly online with Alycia to assist Kim in getting comfortable with the SSP and instructions. Throughout listening, Kim was also monitoring and reporting on her blood pressure. Kim noticed slight ear discomfort and a spike in her blood pressure in the beginning of listening, but returned to her baseline after listening. After the sessions were adjusted to 15 minutes per session, her blood pressure no longer spiked during listening. After completing SSP Core, she followed up with SSP Balance. Kim has chosen to do SSP Core twice and will begin her second round in a few months.
Alycia spent time with Kim mapping her autonomic nervous system and focusing on psychoeducation in the context of the nervous system.
“We worked on emotional regulation skills and some focusing activities prior to the listening to aid her in being able to tune into her body and report back what she was experiencing so that we could adjust the dosage as needed,” Alycia said.
Kim’s blood pressure is now back to a normal range and has stabilized to the point where medication is not necessary. Her doctors were very impressed. Alycia shared that she was especially amazed by Kim’s progress: while her stress level inputs have not decreased, she is better able to manage and cope with the complications of keeping her daughter safe and healthy and balancing her work and home life.
Although Alycia is always amazed to hear how each person responds to the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), Kim’s results were particularly powerful to her for a couple of reasons. First, Alycia did not know that the SSP could change blood pressure levels, and she was especially surprised since Kim’s other family members need medication for high blood pressure.
Before the SSP, therapy alone did not move the blood pressure readings significantly. Having access to Kim’s daily blood pressure readings prior to, during, and after the listening therapy showed that Kim is now undeniably at a normal range and no longer needs medication. She has been in the normal range for about six months since completing the SSP.
“Her family members were also impressed and are looking into connecting with a clinician in their area who administers SSP to try it themselves,” Alycia said. “Her doctor was pretty shocked, and I imagine is curious about other patients first trying the SSP to better manage their blood pressure before jumping to medication.”
Alycia added that it was important to have gone into this round of the SSP with an open mind as she could not comment on whether it would help with blood pressure.
“To be honest, I didn’t necessarily think there would be [a] significant difference in the area of blood pressure but did feel it would help her anxiety,” Alycia said. “I find that the results are so different for each person so I try to normalize the variety of experiences people have with the protocol.”
Prior to diving into the listening sessions, Alycia and Kim spent time on psychoeducation and Polyvagal Theory, mapping Kim’s nervous system to help her better understand the SSP.
“I also think it helped to do some focusing activities (from the Anne Cornel book) to help her tune into her body to report back how she was doing during and after the listening,” she said. “I find many clients are not good at tuning into their bodies and so it is helpful to first practice this before doing the protocol so that I can get accurate information to potentially change the dosage during the listening.”
Alycia also learned that biofeedback in some way can be super helpful, specifically as a pre- and post-screening. She also sees blood pressure and resting heart rate as valuable pre- and post-delivery information in some cases.