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Coping Skill Matching

Sometimes when faced with a distressing situation, people will try throwing all the coping skills they have at the problem without considering their effectiveness. Different emotions require different soothing methods, and therefore different coping skills to deal with them. For example, if you are angry a hug probably wouldn’t feel very comforting or soothing, but if you are sad then a hug may feel ok.


To help clients cope with their emotions more effectively, I often teach them to use what I call Coping Skill Matching. In a nutshell, Coping Skill Matching is a process for choosing an appropriate coping skill based on the desired outcome, rather than picking a coping skill first and hoping it works. Choosing your coping activity based on your desired outcome may help increase the likelihood of success.


Download the free Coping Skill Matching Worksheet here to help walk you through the process.


Coping Skill Matching Process


Step 1: Feeling Inventory:


Take note of what you are currently feeling. If you are having trouble naming your emotions, consider referencing a feelings list. If any of the emotions are currently problematic or you tend to express the emotion inappropriately then move to step 2. If you are comfortable with the feelings you are experiencing or if they are at an appropriate level for the situation, then perhaps you do not need to change them and instead can just sit in your feelings and process them appropriately.

Step 2: Determine Outcome:


Determine what you would like to feel instead of what you are currently feeling, i.e., the desired outcome. At this step often people will have the tendency to say “not ___”, as the desired outcome (or not what they are currently feeling). Naming what you would like to feel instead of what you don’t want to feel will make step 3 easier.


Step 3: Potential Tools:


determine potential tools to help you match your coping skills

List all the potential coping skills and tools that may give you the desired outcome listed in Step 2. Hobbies, mantra’s, things you tell yourself, people you talk to, activities you enjoy: they all count as potential resources! Don't limit yourself to baths or long walks on the beach: your coping skills can be anything that helps you deal with the emotion.


Step 4: Experiment:


Experiment with your tools and see what fits for you. Keeping track of your coping skill experiments can help you figure out what is going to be most effective.

It also serves as a handy record for times when you are in distress and may have difficulty remembering these tools. I suggest keeping a copy on your phone and in physical locations where you are likely to need it most. Having a quick reference list of potential coping tool options can make dealing with stressful/anxiety producing events easier, as thinking of something in the moment can be hard.


Step 5: Evaluate:


Evaluating your experiment is an essential step to help you determine what you want to try again, and what was not very helpful. Some common evaluation questions could include:

  • Did you get the desired outcome?

  • How effective was this coping skill? (rate out of 10)

  • Were there situations/emotions it worked well for? Situations/emotions it did not work well for?

  • Would you do anything different in the future?

  • Is there anything that would enhance this tool?


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