Where should I begin?

In the vast majority of situations, the best place to begin is with SSP.

By very rapidly shifting physiology, SSP sets a better platform for any other approach to work more effectively and more efficiently, thus saving both money and time.

However, there are a few caveats:

  • SSP can initially for some people cause the nervous system to become more sensitive and more reactive.  Basically, at the start, things may become worse rather than better.  For this reason, we do not begin SSP when someone is already at the limit of what they feel they can deal with.
  • With SSP, in order for the process to be both as smooth as possible and as effective as possible, it is important to have someone who is a support or at least neutral, to be there with you while you listen.
  • SSP is likely to be much more tumultuous and potentially less likely to be effective when someone is living with someone who is toxic, hurtful ,or angry towards them, consistently.
For these reasons, sometimes I may suggest someone begin with neurofeedback or the "Calming" program on the Focus System instead of, or prior to beginning SSP

In situations where there is someone in the home that tends to "rock the boat" for the individual - being more angry or stressed or difficult - I often will suggest that the family, if willing, all begin with neurofeedback and share the sessions so that everyone at home can be feeling better and more peaceful before beginning SSP.

Similarly, it may be that the family share some or part of a course of Focus System programs (likely the "calming" programs) to help everyone in the home become better regulated and more able to support the SSP process.

SSP is best followed by another approach, either Focus or Neurofeedback or, potentially one and then the other. Or, SSP can be followed with occupational therapy when relevant for the individual or psychotherapy, preferably a nervous system based approach to psychotherapy and/or one that involves rapid and gentle trauma processing.

Somatic experiencing can be a wonderful place to start.  If you are not already working with an SE therapist and prefer to work individually, you can check here to find an SE therapist in your area.

I do offer online somatic experiencing skills groups.  While anyone is welcome to attend them, my focus currently is to offer them for people who are preparing to do SSP, currently doing SSP, or have done SSP and want to continue to strengthen their resiliency.  

Whether you are doing (or have done) SSP with myself or another SSP practitioner, you are welcome to attend my groups. 

In some cases we may choose to begin by using SSP Connect in order to ideally bring more regulation into the nervous system prior to starting SSP Core.

I may also suggest NeurOptimal neurofeedback as a method to use prior to beginning SSP Core, to bring more regulation on board.

In situations where there is a great deal of stress in the home, and/or someone in the home that tends to "rock the boat" for the individual - being angry or stressed or difficult - I often will suggest that as much of the family as possible, begin with a NeurOptimal rental system for home use and share the sessions so that everyone at home can, ideally, be feeling better and even a little more harmonious, which then sets a better platform from which to do SSP.

NeurOptimal is also one of the approaches I highly recommend following SSP with.  

If you are within Canada I have NeurOptimal rental systems available for home use.  Renting NeurOptimal is one of the most cost effective ways of doing neurofeedback.  If you are in the US or the UK, I have someone I can refer you to to access a NeurOptimal home rental system.

The iLs Focus System - another remarkably effective system that I highly recommend following SSP with - also can be used prior to beginning SSP, in order to settle the nervous system and bring more regulation on board.

As with NeurOptimal, use of the Focus System programs can be used to increase resilience in the individuals nervous system as well as potentially the system being shared among family members to help everyone in the home become better regulated and more able to support the SSP process.

Do the changes created with these systems last over time?

In most cases, yes, with a few caveats:

  • Someone with very entrenched and chronic concerns - such as complex trauma or trauma experienced early in life, autism spectrum disorders, chemical sensitivities, and/or very complex presentation - are likely to need more than one round of SSP and/or Focus,  and are more likely to benefit from ongoing or periodic revisiting of neurofeedback.  This could look like renting a neurofeedback system once per year, or repeating SSP every three months, or purchasing ones own neurofeedback or Focus system so that one can access it intermittently, as needed.
  • Our lives do not stay constant.  So we can work on ourselves and get our nervous system really well regulated, and then go through a traumatic event or other types of extreme stress.  In these cases it is likely that one would just need a "booster" of SSP, Focus and/or neurofeedback, rather than completely starting over.  With neurofeedback, for example,  if one had initially needed 30 sessions to reach one's goals, it may be that a few sessions are all that is needed to feel back on track, rather than doing another 30.
  • Some shifts may be age related.  With neurofeedback, for example, a fairly common experience is to have one's eyesight improve.  If age related eyesight deterioration improves with NeurOptimal, as one continues to age, deterioration is going to resume at some point.  While brain training is wonderful, it isn't magic.  :)
  • Many people choose to repeat SSP, Focus, or neurofeedback not because they lost the gains they had made, but because they found it so transformative that they can't wait to see what things will irmprove on a subsequent round.  For myself ,for example, with neurofeedback, initially my sleep and energy levels and mood improved. With further training, I hewas completely eliminated, and I noticed I became much more (calmly and effortlessly) assertive with others and more able to set boundaries.  On my second round of SSP, I didn't choose the best timing and did it right before moving and am not aware of experiencing improvement that round as I was just too stressed to be able to respond well to SSP.  However,r on my third round of SSP my chronic pain improved - going from a 7 out of 10, down to a 0 or 1 out of 10.  It is fine to repeat SSP once every three months and now that I am about 5 month post the third round of SSP I am starting to notice pain levels creeping back in at about a 3 or 4 out of 10, which tells me it is time to repeat SSP.

How long will it take to see results?

The answer to this is "it depends".  It is a little like asking how many times do we need to go to the gym to reach our fitness goals, or how long will it take for my child to be toilet trained, or to learn to ride a bike, etc...

Every brain is different so we can never be sure what any one individual's experience is going to look like, regardless of the system being used.

With neurofeedback, while some people have a dramatic response to just one or a few sessions, it is more typical that improvements show up gradually and then cumulate over time. It is fairly typical when I hook someone up for a second or third neurofeedback session and ask them what changes they are noticing that they will say "I think X issue is improving but maybe it was just a better week than usual". However, usually by a 4th or 5th neurofeedback session - and sometimes even after the very first session - people are certain that are seeing a change because some situation has come up that usually would have been really difficult and they found it just rolled off of them.  

NeurOptimal neurofeedback is not considered a treatment or a therapy as the brain is in charge with this system.  This means there is a much lower risk of side effects than with some other forms of neurofeedback but, it also means that we can not control where improvements show up first.  It may be that someone has a dramatic improvement right from a first or second session of neurofeedback - I have seen responses like dramatically improved eyesight or dramatically improved sleep or energy levels after just one or two sessions - but that it takes several more sessions for the issue that first motivated someone to access neurofeedback (depression, anxiety, etc...) to show improvement.  If someone has done SSP prior to doing Neurofeedback they are likely to see improvements sooner and/or more dramatically, in most cases.

With NeurOptimal as long as there is a change in the duration, intensity or frequency of symptoms in some area of life, we know that the brain is responding and that we are on the right track and it is just a matter of time before improvements show up in the desired areas.

With SSP there are people who notice an obvious improvement within the first 10 minutes of listening, and there are people who aren't aware of changes until a few weeks after they complete the SSP process. While there are some people who don't show an obvious response to a first round of SSP that is quite rare, and most of those individuals will show improvement on a subsequent around should they choose to repeat SSP. It takes 2-7 weeks after the SSP process is complete for all of the changes to show up so we don't decide it hasn't worked for someone until we are past the 7 week mark post SSP listening.

With Focus, it may depend upon how often people are using Focus. Someone who is using it for five hours per week for an hour each time and doing all of the activities is likely to see a shift much sooner than someone who is using it just three hours per week. Most people may start to see improvement with Focus within a couple of weeks of beginning, though they may be quite subtle at first.  Gains tend to become more often after about 4-6 months.   If someone has done SSP prior to doing Focus they are likely to see improvements faster and in some cases, much faster and more dramatically - but every nervous system is different.  

Are there any contraindications to using these systems?

With NeurOptimal neurofeedback, I am not aware of any contraindications to using this system. While there are people who initially may have an uptick in agitation or anxiety when they first begin brain training, this type of response is relatively rare and is likely to settle fairly quickly with appropriate information and the right type of approach:  going to the place of neutral observer and simply being "curious" about this interesting nervous system response, and/or using a weighted blanket during or after neurofeedback sessions, rather than worrying about the response and having anxiety about the anxiety or agitation, which then can become a runaway train.

it is typically fine to use NeurOptimal neurofeedback as soon as possible after a brain injury.  

The vast majority of people find NeurOptimal sessions extremely relaxing, to the point that there are some people who simply can not stay awake during them.

With SSP, SSP should not be used by those with seizure disorders unless they have been seizure free for at least one year prior to beginning SSP and after consulting with their neurologist.   

SSP should not be used during the acute stage post concussion and not without medical consultation - which I can access at no cost - after recent brain injury.

The Focus System is NOT recommended for those with bipolar depression or seizure disorders.

What can I do during sessions?

NeurOptimal neurofeedback is a passive system  It is not necessary to pay attention during session.  As long as one is hooked up and the sensors stay attached and one can hear the music - preferably as the most dominant sound in the background - it is fine to do whatever you like.  You may use your tablet or phone, have a nap, or read a book.  Many people find that if they do homework or written work during NeurOptimal sessions that the work goes much faster and more easily than usual.

NeurOptimal can be used on people who are in comas. Sometimes parents of young children who may not want to sit still or keep the sensors on will hook their children up while they are in a heavy state of sleep. It is important to stay in the room to watch and be sure the child does not in their sleep become tangled in the sensors and cords both for safety reasons and to ensure the sessions are effective. I also have children's TV shows and movies loaded onto the neurofeedback tablets so that the neurofeedback can be delivered through the audio of those programs, thus being more likely to help a young child stay cooperative and engaged during the process. Though they can also be watching another movie without sound on, or playing games on a tablet with the sound off.

During SSP sessions, it is important that most of your focus be upon actively listening to the music.  So it is important to NOT be on a tablet, phone or any kind of screen during sessions.  No reading or writing during SSP sessions.  If someone falls asleep during an SSP session, they ideally need to go back to where they last remember hearing the music and repeat the portion that they slept through.

It is important that SSP sessions occur with as little background noise as possible, and with a support person present who just need to notice if the person listening is looking at them so that they can response with eye contact and a warm smile and/or affection as comfortable for the individuals.  Connection, contact and support very much increases the effectiveness of SSP as well as helping the process to be easier and more gentle.

During Focus sessions there are different recommended activities to do, outlined in the "playbook" that accompanies the Focus system. The Focus system includes a waist pack so that you can easily move around while listening.  These activities start out as being very simple and the slowly increase in challenge as the individual masters the previous level of activity. The activities are not intense and many of them are fun and feel good to do.  The activities typically take up about 15 minutes of Focus per hour of listening. The remaining 45 hours of listening you are free to sit and relax or do activities as interesest you. For myself when I am doing Focus, I start my day with it and, after doing the 15 minutes or so of Focus playbook activities I get ready for work, knit, or tidy the house.

During Focus and NeurOptimal neurofeedback it is typically fine to do things like colour, knit, play with legos, draw, do sensory activities like a child searching for little toys in a bit of beans or rice, playing with kinetic sand, and so on.  These activities are equally acceptable and potentially even helpful during SSP  as long as the person is still able to keep most of their focus upon actively listening.  So, for example a very experienced knitter may be fine to knit a simple project during SSP but someone knew to knitting who has to think a lot and focus a lot upon the knitting as they do it, it would not be recommended that they knit during SSP.