What is “Healthy Coping”?

Where Does It Come From and How Do I Get It?

Timothy Re, Psy.D.


Many people who are contemplating and/or entering therapy know they need something more to deal with life’s problems but don’t know what it is or how to ask for it. There are times in everyone’s life when you are aware that you’re not doing too well and are overwhelmed with negative emotions.


Negative emotions, (anger, sadness, anxiety, etc) are what we all universally experience and, to oversimplify matters, what we all don’t want to experience. Negative emotions are part of human nature and are influenced by our own unique internal and external challenges and histories. Sometimes it’s easy to see where negative emotions originate from (as when something bad happens to us); however, in many cases, the source of these feelings is more subtle, internally influenced and related to things that aren’t so apparent. All we know is that we’re uncomfortable and want feelings to go away.


How we respond to negative emotions is basically what coping is all about. Our response depends on many factors: our personalities, biology, health, psychological make-up, and individual strengths and weaknesses. Our individual histories and relationships play a part, as well.


Coping can range from very unhealthy to healthy and positive. “Dysfunction” can be defined of as having a lack of healthy coping skills in our lives, and/or a reliance on negative coping mechanisms that aren’t working and not meeting current demands. Healthy coping mechanisms, on the other hand, are a sum total of skills we’ve learned from our families and relationships, skills we develop, and skills that we naturally possess.


A good way to develop healthy coping is through psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is often like a journey, guided by a therapist, to find healthy coping. Sometimes, it is an inward journey to the self, to find our spiritual center, inner strengths and core capacities. Sometimes, it is a journey of growth to find new sources of strength, support and skills, while learning to the circumvent barriers we encounter along the way.


In all cases, the search for healthy coping is a learning process which leads to growth. It is a journey that starts with a decision to go. Like most journeys, the search for healthy coping can be difficult to start but you’ll be glad you did.