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Cluster Analysis Reveals Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping Profiles


Everybody copes with stress in his or her own way. Some people focus on solving the problem that causes stress, while others alleviate stress by venting and sharing their feelings. Previous research has studied problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies at length. Avoidant coping, characterized by using denial or detachment as a method of avoiding the stressful feelings, has also been examined in great detail. But until now, few studies have looked at how coping profiles, combinations of coping techniques, affect psychological distress, and more specifically, stress, anxiety, and depression. Chris A. Eisenbarth of the Department of Health Promotion and Human Performance at Weber State University in Utah decided to explore how combinations of coping strategies worked to effect distress.

In a sample of 349 young adult college students, Eisenbarth studied which coping methods were used most often, used least often, and which were used in conjunction with one another to achieve the largest decreases in distress. He also examined the level of help-seeking that the students sought and how it related to outcome. Eisenbarth used cluster analysis to reveal several unique coping profiles. Participants who focused on emotional and problem solving with low avoidance and moderate help seeking behaviors had the lowest levels of distress. “Conversely, students with high avoidance coping, moderate support seeking, and low levels of problem- and emotion-focused coping reported the highest levels of psychological distress,” said Eisenbarth.

These findings demonstrate that coping strategies are not exclusive of one another, but rather, work in concert to alleviate or exacerbate stress. For example, people who are less stressed after venting about an issue may be able to think more clearly about how to resolve, or solve, the problem that causes the stress. In the same way, focusing on the solution may lessen the perceived threat attached to the stressor, and allow for more emotional coping. Eisenbarth also noticed that help-seeking was very beneficial when it was used in moderation and when other adaptive techniques were being employed. Eisenbarth hopes that this research can be used to enhance interventions designed to reduce maladaptive coping strategies such as avoidance, and that these results will help inform clinicians that a combination of positive coping methods may be a viable option for clients struggling with psychological distress.

Eisenbarth, Chris. Coping profiles and psychological distress: A cluster analysis. North American Journal of Psychology 14.3 (2012): 485-96. Print.

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  • susie January 7th, 2013 at 3:21 PM #1

    Ahhh but the question then becomes how to get someone who as always used avoidance as a means for coping to turn it around and develop the skill set to use more positive adaptive and coping skills. How do you turn all of this around for them when for some this is the only method of coping with stress and pain that they have ever known? You know that it will take a while to change someone from always burying their heads in the sand into someone ready to face real life and reality for a change. Yes, we know that would be good for them and deep down they probably recognize this too, but that wil take a whole lot of work to change the habits like that which have been formed over so much time.

  • leroy January 7th, 2013 at 11:29 PM #2

    avoidance is never a good adaption technique..u simply cannot wish away ur problems!it takes work to get rid of issues that r causing stress in d first place,there r no shortcuts to dis…!

  • Woody W January 8th, 2013 at 3:48 AM #3

    So I can’t be negative and I can’t avoid and I can’t be emotional. . . okay it’s official I am a basketcase.

  • Dipika Q January 8th, 2013 at 7:58 AM #4

    My go to stress relief has always been eating. Then, a couple of years ago I got myself together, starting exercising and making better (albeit far from perfect) eating choices, and lost 40 pounds. The problem is that now I don’t really know how it is exactly that I deal with stress. So, when I’m upset about something, I just watch TV. How do you know if what you are doing to relieve stress is okay or not?

  • Ellen January 8th, 2013 at 8:01 AM #5

    Dipika Q, I’m not an expert, so this is just my opinion, Let me clarify that first! I think that if you are doing something that relieves stress but isn’t harming yourself or anyone else then what you are doing is okay. If you are watching a couple of hours of TV a day but still taking care of your personal and professional responsibilities, then I think you are A-okay. However, if you are watching say six hours of TV a day and neglecting your kids or getting in to work late every day, your chosen method of stress relief may need a little tweaking.

  • Harry January 8th, 2013 at 8:02 AM #6

    I wonder why stress relievers that really work are generally really bad for you?

  • jim January 8th, 2013 at 9:37 PM #7

    dont know why but I seem to o with the avoidance technique almost always.when Im stressed there isnt much energy left to go about the problem solving so I just want to escape from the feeling.sure I have to face it later but at the moment when Im feeling the weakest I can get away from it and feel it works well.dont know why the study says otherwise.

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