How does the client cope with stress?

In contrast to defence mechanisms which are primarily unconscious, coping strategies are applied consciously. Coping is also seen as being more related to external sources of stress.

An important characteristic of coping is that, to a certain extent, people are free to decide how they deal with a problem. There are adequate and inadequate coping strategies. Adequate or healthy coping strategies resolve problems and may include asking others for help, standing up for yourself and acting in ways that modulate emotions.

Examples of unhealthy coping strategies are the excessive use of alcohol or tranquillisers, self-injurious behaviour and aggressive behaviour. Coping is important in the presence of upheaval, discomfort, pain, excessive expectations and the like on the one hand, and problematic behaviour on the other.

When describing a coping mechanism, it is important to determine how the client deals with mental stress and physical stress (such as physical discomfort, pain and illness). An important underlying principle here is that, whatever the individual circumstances, challenging behaviour will only emerge when the coping strategy is inadequate. The ability to cope is affected by past experience, cognitive limitations and the way in which pain or discomfort are experienced and understood by the client. It is therefore natural to conclude that multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary collaboration is also needed to analyse coping styles.