About the Provider
Name: Susanna Harkonen
Discipline/Credentials: Registered Counselor
Modalities: Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), EMDR, CBT, ASDCS, CCTP, sensory processing/integration, mindfulness
Name: Bob (pseudonym)
Age and Gender: 22-year-old man
Program Delivered: Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) (SSP Core and Balance, Hours 1 through 5)
Bob is a young, socially adaptable and smart university student, but was unable to concentrate and focus on his studies due to intrusive thoughts.
His mother’s side is Asian and has a history of unprocessed trauma. After his parents divorced several years ago, Bob and his two brothers stayed with their mother, with whom he has a close relationship.
Bob’s relationship with his father, however, is distant. His father is Caucasian and exhibits some autistic tendencies, although he has not been diagnosed. He was often unpredictable and angry, and targeted his rage at Bob. He created corporal punishments and rules that constantly changed without Bob’s knowledge, which made them hard to follow. Bob’s father used physical violence and would have Bob hit himself as punishment.
All his family members would drink substantially when getting together “in order to support each other,” and Bob would drink half to one full bottle of wine daily to calm his anxiety.
Bob has been in therapy on several occasions in his home country and received medication for his conditions. He was experiencing intrusive thoughts, generalized anxiety, and dissociation. He was unable to relax, had cognitive difficulties, and was unable to focus on talk therapy during the first sessions due to his intrusive thoughts. Bob wanted help with these thoughts that prevented him from studying and connecting with other students, and was concerned about his drinking.
Having tried many forms of therapy and medication, Bob admitted he was somewhat skeptical about the outcomes of the therapy, as his previous experiences had not produced lasting results. (His previous therapist had also dropped him just before he started working with Susanna.) Their treatment goal was mainly to provide regular support during his university exchange program, which lasted one semester, before he could return to his country and find a regular therapist.
Implementation of the SSP
Bob started directly with the SSP Core as he did not have any particular sensitivities. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the program was delivered remotely via independent listening monitored online (but not co-listening) for 30 minutes per day, with regular check-ins weekly or biweekly online via Zoom and daily follow-ups by WhatsApp (text message) during the first 10 days.
Bob took a brief break from the program after the first five hours but asked to continue daily listening as it had such a positive and significant effect on him. He used the SSP Core for another month and a half and then moved to the SSP Balance program. He has now been listening daily or several times per week since early October 2022, and continues to use both programs.
His SSP delivery was supported by psychoeducation on trauma, Polyvagal Theory and attachment trauma, as well as co-regulation during the online sessions and three in-person sessions at the beginning and end of the therapy.
He was keen on learning more about the topics discussed and became quite knowledgeable about Polyvagal Theory and the neuroscience behind trauma, which helped their joint work and further increased his trust in the SSP. Within one to two weeks of starting the SSP, Bob increased the number of sports and social activities on his own and limited his drinking to social occasions.
Provider Susanna Harkonen shared the following testimonial from Bob:
The Safe and Sound Protocol caught me by surprise and greatly improved my overall well-being. I had been dealing with a persistent episode of issues of depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and dissociation for months when I began the protocol. After the first session, I didn’t feel much of anything. After session three, I felt subtle calmness that I hadn’t felt in months. My symptoms gradually improved until I completed the protocol — and even then it continued after.
What’s interesting to me about the SSP is that it is so subtle — there is no magical moment of remission. Instead, I just completed the sessions and went about my normal business. Slowly, I realized that I had felt much better than I had in months. I was able to enjoy calmness and connect again with the world. The motivation and optimism that these initial moments of reduced symptoms gave me allowed me to completely change my daily habits — further leading to healing. For example, after a few sessions of SSP, I began exercising more, reading more, and drinking less.
Overall, I am extremely thankful for the SSP and the reduction in depression, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts it has given me. I am able to enjoy life again and experience calmness. I have motivation to change my lifestyle, and I’m even optimistic about the future.
“I was delighted to see the massive physical, mental and emotional shifts in the client,” Susanna said. “This intervention worked particularly well because we formed a good therapeutic alliance from the beginning, [he] is young and genuinely wanted to get better, he was open minded and keen on trying new approaches, and he absorbed and immediately applied most parts that he learned through psychoeducation.”
Susanna noted that she was careful at the beginning not to go too fast because the training emphasized so much that less is more and was a little hesitant to do a second set of SSP Core immediately after the first one.
“I was very concerned about the client’s state, and even safety, when we started the therapy, as he was clearly distressed and overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how much I could do for him, if anything,” she said. However, since Bob improved so much and so fast, she followed up closely with him and ensured that the impact was positive rather than overwhelming.
“I find the SSP a wonderful tool for Gen Zs and especially anxious students since it can be delivered remotely, conveniently and discreetly, and the cost of delivery can be kept reasonable because the SSP requires less [one-on-one] face time than talk therapy.”
“It was so beautiful to witness how the client just got better session after session, became more communicative, more social and started reporting positive elements about his life, including dating and other social activities,” Susanna added. “He continues to keep me updated, and recently reported that he is getting along better with his mother.”
Discover the Safe and Sound Protocol
Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the SSP is a non-invasive acoustic vagus nerve stimulator that helps clients connect with themselves, others, and the world from a foundation of physiological safety.