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Case StudySSPAutonomic Nervous SystemDepressionTrauma & PTSD

Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) supports woman in achieving a ventral state after 31 years of depression

🕑 5 minutes read
Posted August 30, 2023

About the Provider

Name: Terri Bernath
Disciplines/credentials: Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) Provider, certified Compassionate Inquiry Practitioner, Cognitive Remediation therapy (CR) 
Modalities: Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), Compassionate Inquiry, Theraphi Therapist

Client Background

Name: Jill (pseudonym) 
Age and Gender: 59-year-old woman 
Program Delivered: Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) Core (Hours 1-5); Balance (Hours 1-5); Connect (Hour 1)

Jill presents with post-traumatic grief disorder and experiences feelings of dread upon waking each day. She has experienced depression for 31 years and is stuck in a chronic state of dorsal and dysregulation of the vagus nerve. This has resulted in a lack of motivation to move her body and perform basic daily tasks. Jill experienced trauma in her childhood through physical abuse and neglect from her mother. Jill’s father left the family when she was five years old. 

Thirty-five years ago, Jill lost a newborn child, which initiated her depression and chronic dorsal state. Jill had two daughters following the loss of her child, but raising them was very difficult due to her persistent dorsal state. Jill’s marriage also proved difficult for the same reasons. 

Over numerous years, Jill has tried multiple treatments, including 12-step programs, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), TheraPhi, and Compassionate Inquiry. All of these methods have been helpful, but they have not addressed her persistent dorsal experience in a meaningful way. 

Jill has been working with provider Terri Bernath for two years doing Compassionate Inquiry and TheraPhi, as well as marriage counseling with a separate therapist. She has had great benefits from these methods, but was seeking more relief from her daily lack of motivation and depression. 

Terri introduced the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) to Jill and she was excited to try it after talking through the potential benefits. Jill has an excellent support network that has been formed over 16 years, which was a huge factor in her success with the SSP. 

Implementation of the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)

The SSP was delivered in person with Terri as a co-listener and co-regulator. Terri educated Jill on Polyvagal Theory and the autonomic ladder. Autonomic mapping was the most valuable tool for Jill and they used it in each listening session. 

They began with SSP Core, listening to the Original (Adult) playlist. They did 15 minutes of listening a day, until hour five, which was completed in two half-hour sessions. The total number of listening sessions was 16 over three and a half weeks. Following SSP Core, Jill completed SSP Balance Original (Adult) playlist, and is using SSP Connect as well. 

During listening sessions, Jill used Compassionate Inquiry two times. Most listening sessions included educational time as well. Regulating activities that worked for Jill included coloring and five-finger breathing, yawning, releasing the neck, and rhythmic rocking with self-touch. Starting at hour two, she began a “glimmer” log, as she began to notice things changing in herself and her world. 


At hour two of listening, Jill realized she was waking up without the feeling of dread. She was in tears as she shared this news with Terri and could not believe how quickly the change happened. During the same time, her motivation to move and accomplish tasks began to increase. Jill has historically been a very poor sleeper, but by the first hour of listening, she began to sleep deeply. 

Jill explained that her lingering depression just “slid away.” She began to notice and feel that she was in a ventral state for the first time in decades, possibly for the first time in her whole life. This prompted her to begin the glimmer log.

She reported waking up refreshed and ready to begin the physical movement of packing up her house to move. “[She] still can’t believe how she feels when she wakes up after being past one month of completion of the SSP Core pathway,” Terri said. 

Her scores on all initial intake forms were low, yet her life was not what she wanted it to be. She scored a zero on BAI and scored a six on the PHQ-9. On the Unyte SSP Adult Intake Form, she scored a 20. They have not re-administered these assessments, as Jill has just moved and is settling into her new home. 


“It has been a joy to see her change. I am quite surprised how quickly the changes began for her. Family members, friends and her support people are all saying how different she is,” Terri shared. Jill has noticed that by regulating her vagus nerve, the world around her is positively impacted and that when she’s regulated, she’s able to regulate others. Her daughters are amazed at the changes in their mom, her husband is so happy to see his wife show up in new ways, and the whole family unit is being positively impacted!  

Terri shares some reasons why she believes the SSP was successful with Jill: “I believe that because I have a long-term clinical relationship with [Jill], there is a safety factor that is well established. Many of my clients are new to me when they show up for SSP. Also, Jill was willing to follow the suggestions for success to the letter. Her participation was excellent.”

The in-person delivery was also beneficial. Halfway through hour two of listening, Jill had her big shift. Jill had arrived really distressed after an upset with her husband. They didn’t do any listening that day and instead colored together as Jill talked her way through her upset. 

Through this, she was able to return to a ventral state and experience the blended states of ventral and dorsal, “the state of intimate stillness,” Terri said. Jill was astounded that this was possible considering how upset she had just been. She was able to feel a sense of safety in a deeply meaningful way and there was no dysregulation. 

Terri added, “She comes back to this moment of felt safety and uses it as a ventral anchor.” 

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