A plethora of relaxation strategies have been developed and are appropriate to try. Individuals vary substantially in what works to help them relax. The role of the practitioner is to provide a range of ideas and explore them with the client until he or she finds one or more techniques that work best.
DBT therapists particularly recommend activities using the senses including sight (e.g. looking at beautiful paintings or photographs); hearing (e.g. listening to soothing music or a recording of nature sounds); smell (e.g. burning scented oils or smelling flowers in a park); taste (eating your favourite food slowly), and touch (taking a bath, getting a massage, playing with a pet).
The exploration process involves the practitioner presenting a range of options in each of these five categories and encouraging the client to choose one or more, or make up one of their own, that they would feel comfortable to try.
The practitioner encourages the client to create a relaxation plan comprising a selection of techniques identified during the exploration process, including techniques appropriate for use at home and some for when they are away from home. Clients are encouraged to write down the techniques in the form of precise action statements (p28-29) including on small cards that can be carried in a wallet or small bag and looked at regularly.
‘Safe-place visualisation’ is an advanced self-soothing technique in which a peaceful and relaxing scene is created in the imagination. The practitioner can begin to teach this technique by providing a guided visualisation. The client chooses a particular kind of place (e.g. the kitchen in the home of someone who loved them or a peaceful beach on a warm day). The guiding process invites the client to silently explore the safe place with all their senses, first what the place looks like (is it light or dark, who is there), any sounds they can hear (music, voices, the ocean), what the place smells like (cooking smells, sea air), then touch, taste. When all five senses have been explored the guiding invites mindful attention to the relaxed state and sense of safety, then conscious breathing.
A recording of the guiding voice can be given to the client for personal use (p31-33).
Remember that relaxation and self soothing behaviours are not intended to remove or prevent the arising of painful experience. As Distress Tolerance skills they are intended to provide temporary relief from emotional pain to reduce the risk of harmful behavioural responses.
These notes are based on McKay, Wood and Brantley (2007) unless otherwise stated.