DBT Video Text: Self-Soothe

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These are scripts from videos by Dialectical Behavioral Therapy creator Marsha Linehan describing DBT skills. You can purchase the videos from Behavioral Tech LLC.

So, we’ve gotten through the Distraction Skills now we’re going to move to a new set and these are the Self-Soothing Skills. Now self soothing has to do with nurturing yourself, comforting yourself, being kind to yourself. That’s exactly what you need in a crisis. In a crisis you’re going to try to soothe yourself through it. 

There are lots of ways to soothe yourself. But almost very way has something to do with one of your five senses. Vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch. So let’s talk about each one of them. 


The idea of self soothing with vision is you want to do something that soothes the eyes.  Something that soothes your sight. What could that be? Well lots of people think flowers are beautiful. It’s one of the reasons we plant them in our yards. And it’s really wonderful to have a flower. You could get just one flower on a really awful day when you’re in total crisis. Go to the store, find one really beautiful flower. 

Just because I knew we were going to be doing this, I brought a beautiful flower. So I’m going to keep that here just to remind you of soothing through beauty.

Another way to soothe through beauty or through your eyes or through vision is to try to make something nice in your house. Have you ever noticed how when you walk into the house and just see a mess that you can feel that you’re in more of a crisis than you were before? So the idea here is to make one part of your house beautiful.

DBT Self-Soothe: A bouquet of white Gerber daisies in a vase.

Now I’m not adverse, you could clean your whole house up, I mean you could make the whole thing beautiful but that’s kind of a big task – probably not what you want to do in a crisis. So in a crisis the thing to do is just find one nice place. In fact, if your whole house is a catastrophe, you could clean up one corner. In fact you could take everything from that corner that’s a mess, put is somewhere else, put a flower. Have your chair face that corner and try to find a way so that you just see the beauty.

If you like pictures or art, go to an art museum. You can go to a bookstore and look through art books. You could have art books at home and look through them. There might be a magazine where you really like the pictures, that’s always a good thing to do. 

But you want to remember is that your environment counts. And if you can improve the environment around you, make the environment more beautiful, it’ll make a crisis easier to get through.


The next sense, hearing. Music soothes the mind. Sometimes you’ll have a song that a favorite song that’s really soothing, like a lullaby. You could sing it to yourself.

Have you ever noticed how some people when they get really stressed, they start humming. You could hum. Humming can be a very soothing sound. 

If you know how to play an instrument like the piano, guitar, violin, you could play music. 

Now lots of people find another human voice soothing. This is really good if the crisis is that you’re alone. So how could you hear another human voice? Well, you could call somebody, listen to them talk. That’s always good. 

DBT Self-Soothe: A person holds a smartphone to their ear

I have some other ideas – you may think these are silly but take it from me, in a crisis you’ve got to do anything that could help. So, if you want to hear a human voice, you could call 800 numbers; listen to the voice on the number. Or you could call reservations people, talk to them. You could call your crisis clinic, talk to someone there.

There are lots of places where there are sounds of voices. You could turn your TV on, listen to the voices. You know how some people leave their TV on all the time, no matter what they’re doing, even when they’re not watching it. Why do they do that? Because it’s soothing. They just feel more comfortable with the sound of voices in their house. And if you’re that kind of person, turn it on. You don’t have a TV? Turn the radio on. Just keep it on. It can help.


So what’s the next sense? Smell. Now if you’re going to use smell to soothe, you’ve got to think about what smells do you find soothing.

A lot of people find flowers soothing. You could put on a little bit of perfume – I love putting on perfume. When they sell new houses they often put things on the stove so that the house will smell really good. You just want to try to get smells from the kitchen wafting all through your house. It’s really nice. Most people find smells from the kitchen really comforting. Some people just like the smell of fresh air. That’s good if you are in a crisis and it’s stuffy. Go outside, smell the air.

DBT Self-Soothe: A person with long hair stands outside and smells the air.

So, smell. Try to surround yourself with soothing smells.


What’s the next sense? Taste. Some people only use food to comfort. I hope you’re not one of those people, but if you are plug your ears up while I talk about food. This is not going to be the skill for you.

DBT Self-Soothe: A cup of tea with some pastry and lime wedges.

You might want to go to the store and get some tea, like a special tea. Some people carry candy around. Now my mother always carried around peppermint candy. I swear any crisis that showed up in her life, my mother would pop peppermint candy into her mouth. She put so much peppermint candy in her mouth in so many crises that we all told her, ‘When she died, we’re putting peppermint candy in her casket.’ And that’s exactly what we did. We went and put a whole bag of peppermint candy right in her casket.


How about touch. Touch is unbelievably important when it comes to soothing. There’s been a lot of research on this and a lot is being done. And it turns out that touch can really soothe, relax and lower stress. Getting close to someone or holding someone’s hand, having someone put their arm around you can be very comforting. 

Sounds great doesn’t it. What if you don’t have anybody to touch you? You can put your hand on your hand. You could soothe your hand. You could soothe your arm. You could rub your arm. Massage can be very soothing. Another way to soothe with touch is to put lotions on. You know you can by creams and salt rubs and things like that.

DBT Self-Soothe: a hand dips a finger in a pot of lotion

Touch I really love. I love clean sheets. I love the feel of clean sheets. I like them sort of starchy. You could put clean sheets on your bed. 

One of the most common things people I work with do when they’re in a crisis and they want to soothe themselves with touch is they go and find their animals and hold them and pet them and stroke them. Pick up a dog. Pick up a cat. Stroke the cat. Stroke the dog. This is a great skill because you like it, the cat likes it, the dog likes it. In fact this seems so important that they now have animals in a lot of care facilities for older people.


The great thing about self soothing is that not only can it make a crisis a lot more survivable – it gets you through really tough times. But, if you can get self soothing into your life on a pretty regular basis, it can actually prevent crisis. Because it makes you stronger. Makes you less vulnerable. You’re better able to cope with life. 

Now, there’s some problems with these. Self soothing can be on the complicated side. And the ordinarily…one of two problems. Either you already know how to self soothe. Problem with you is that self soothe too much. Or, you could be a person who never self soothes. You can’t do it.

So let’s start with the person who it’s too easy for. Some people self soothe all the time, in fact, that’s their problem. They are always soothing themselves – that’s how they get into the crisis in the first place. So if you’re that kind of person, you already know these skills. You might want to think about should you be doing self soothing a little bit less. On the other hand, some people who soothe too much can’t do it when they’re in a crisis. They can only do it when they’re not in a crisis. Ask yourself if you’re that kind of person. If you are, then you’re going to want to practice self soothing in the middle of crisis.

Now, what if you’re the other kind of person? You know I can’t begin to tell you the people that I have worked with who simply can not do this. They say, ‘what, me? Me? Soothe myself? I can’t do that!’ Often they say, ‘Look, I don’t deserve it.’ Or, they say, ‘Listen, why would I do that? I feel worse. I feel guilty. I feel ashamed. I’m not going to do it.’ If you’re that kind of person, you need to learn to self soothe. Now, if you feel more ashamed or guilty when you soothe yourself in a crisis, don’t do it in a crisis. Do it when you’re not in a crisis. You just have to start practicing self soothing. 

The idea is to get to the point where you really get soothed. But, it’s an essential skill. Every single one of us has to be able to soothe ourselves. So it’s really important that you learn how to do it. But practice outside of crises until it starts having some positive, soothing effect. 

Those are the Self-Soothing Skills.

This text is the unofficial transcript of Behavioral Tech, LLC.
Chaos to Freedom Skills Training Video. Posted with permission from Behavioral Tech.
Transcribed by Sylvia James, May 15, 2006