Soothe ourselves in times of need: A qualitative exploration of how the feeling of "soothe" is understood and experienced in everyday life

Michelle Mok, Matthias Schwannauer, Wing Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Objectives: Evidence suggests that self-compassion is linked to psychological benefits. Compassion-focused therapy emphasises the importance of developing abilities to self-soothe in alleviating psychological distress. However, little is known about how the feeling of soothe is understood, experienced and achieved in everyday life. This study addressed two research questions: (1) How is the feeling of soothe understood? (2) How is the feeling of soothe experienced in everyday life?

Design: This is part of our ongoing research Project Soothe (, which collects soothing images from the public with the goal to develop a bank of soothing images for psychotherapeutic and research use. We also set up an online survey to explore how individuals understand and experience the feeling of soothe in everyday lives. The current study was based on the qualitative narratives obtained in this survey.

Methods: A total of 176 participants were recruited. Data was analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Three themes emerged in response to the first research question: 1) a complex interconnected state of feelings, 2) self-soothe and being soothed, and 3) involvement of physical sensations. Five themes emerged regarding the second research question: 1) venturing out in nature, 2) being in a familiar surrounding, 3) being solitary, 4) being affiliated, and 5) being physically and mentally relaxed.

Conclusions: Our study illustrated the importance of affiliations, physical sensations, mindfulness, connection with nature, and solitude on the cultivation of soothe. Results may help develop therapeutic techniques in enhancing self-soothe by tapping into individuals’ understanding and subjective experience in everyday contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice
Early online date1 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Aug 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • soothe
  • self-compassion
  • mental health
  • wellbeing
  • Project Soothe
  • lived experience


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