Research Areas and Projects: Coping Style

Research into various types of trauma have suggested the the coping styles and psychological effects of trauma may differ depending on a number of trauma- and individual-specific factors. Therefore, it makes sense to examine how people experience and cope with varying types of trauma. In one study we found that interpersonal trauma or multiple traumas were associated with more distress and higher rates of maladaptive coping than non-interpersonal trauma (Riso, 2007). In a second study, women reported more symptoms of PTSD, especially avoidance and reexperiencing, than men. They also reported greater use of wishful thinking and, to some extent, seeking social support than men. NonCaucasian individuals reported greater use of problem-focused coping, focusing on the positive, self-blame, and keeping to the self. Yet there were no differences between ethnic groups on PTSD symptoms (Hetzel-Riggin, 2010). We are just starting to examine the relationship of personality type and constant stressors (Kutmas, 2011).

We explored the relationship among a number of avoidant coping styles (peritraumatic dissociation, experiential avoidance, thought suppression, etc.) that may occur after a person experiences a traumatic event in order to determine if these coping styles represent an overall avoidant coping trait or if they are separate and distinct constructs that may have unique and separate effects on the development of later psychopathology, specifically posttraumatic stress disorder. The results suggest that the catch-all term “avoidant coping” is a misnomer and can be more accurately understood as a combination of at least four separate types of coping. All four of these types of coping were predictive of PTSD scores; however, the mechanisms by which each factor leads to PTSD may differ (Hetzel-Riggin, 2009).

We are also investigating the relationship between the experience of traumatic events and current psychological and behavioral functioning in order to provide additional knowledge about the effects of traumatic experiences on psychological functioning, coping behavior, self-esteem and body-image, and relationship functioning in adulthood. Coping self-efficacy, resiliency, characterological self-blame, behavioral disengagement, use of emotional support, substance use, denial and trauma exposure were found to be significantly related to perceived coping effectiveness. A regression analysis revealed that denial and trauma exposure were the significant predictors of perceived coping effectiveness (Meads, 2010).

Research using trauma narratives in survivors of other traumas besides IPT have included an attempt to understand the associations between coping skills and different aspects of trauma narratives. Word count (length) was associated with more panic and experiential avoidance, whereas wishful thinking, problem-focused coping, social support seeking, and self-blame were associated with more affective and emotional words. Sensory information in the narratives were associated with positive thinking, self-isolation, detachment, and social support seeking, whereas thought suppression was associated with words about one’s physical condition (Suttles, Braden, Szechowycz, Bulthuis, Salmon, & Gradowski, 2007).

In terms of research into prevention and treatment, we are working to understand the extent expressive emotional writing can affect one’s experience of daily hassles and mood. Research has shown that expressive writing about a traumatic event can help decrease traumatic stress-related symptoms in many people. We are hoping to expand on previous research to determine if writing about ANY type of emotionally significant issue could improve one’s mood and level of stress, whether or not one has experienced a traumatic event. The data collected will also help us see how the structure of expressive writing changes over time and how these changes affect daily mood and one’s experience of the environment. Another avenue of research related to treatment is assessing health care utilization in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans (Grahl, 2010). We are researching what obstacles (both internal and external) prevent returning soldiers from receiving the medical and physical care they need. We found that sleep deprivation, in addition to PTSD symptoms, was the biggest predictor of health care utilization in this population.

Leave a Reply