• Dr. Brian Quinones LPC

Describing Coping Skills


Full disclaimer – I do own copies of many of the games that I will be talking about, but I do not own any stock in their companies, did not create, or help create any of these games for profit. I will mention whenever I mod a game or change it from its original intent to fit my client’s needs. It is important to note that yes, I am a therapist, but this blog is not intended to be therapy. I will offer advice, tips, and other guidance on my blog with the intent to illustrate important life skills, provide entertainment, inform, and at times empower the reader. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness or are facing any kind of crisis seek local professional help, and/or contact authorities or emergency professionals for assistance.


When working in the fields of counseling, education, and social work it is easy to over generalize the skills a child or adolescent needs to improve. The goal of this blog post is to provide working definitions of coping skills and a list of examples. In this work the author provides not just his interpretation of these terms but presents the notion of areas of coping skills as defined by other professionals in the field. After defining the various terms, this author also provides a list of common coping skills to draw from while working in the field. Finally, the author ends his work with a summary and describing why providing appropriate definitions will prove important in future blog posts. During his conclusion this author illustrates the need for future blog posts to exemplify the direction G.A.T.E. LLC’s writing should go to continue to help provide information to those who need it.

Describing Coping Skills

In this week’s blog post we will briefly describe what a coping skill or strategy is and give examples. Like previous posts I will provide text books examples for coping strategies as well as some real-world interpretations of their use. In researching for this post, it was apparent that one can easily lose themselves in specific terms without helping people understand them. Also, the same day I created a list of coping skills as client handouts I can see some flaws in my chosen design. With that in mind, our aim here is to be short, direct, and clearly give examples of coping skills, while acknowledging that there are multiple ways to illustrate them. At the end of this work we will provide a summary and describe some next steps for the blog.

Defining Coping Skills

Over the years working in the field one will eventually come across a parent saying, “He used his coping skills today,” or see a clinical note with “clinician taught coping skills,” and depending on your relationships to the customer you might wonder what exactly does that mean. The term coping skills suffers from the same overgeneralization as social skills. We have a vague sense of what the phrase means, and we know it when we see it, but that does not always help children get a grasp on what it is they are doing. In general, we as professionals and parents tend to value some coping skills over others without taking into consideration which works best for the child. Since this writer is about to make the same mistake, we are going to put the brakes on this blog and provide the following.

A short clean definition - Coping Skills are a list of plans chosen to make up for a lack of strengths in how a person thinks, feel, or acts at specific times in their life.

At the risk of being too wordy, let us present a more academic definition. Ingram (2006) considers the use of developing coping skills a means to address a skill deficit that a client may have. She states that there is a lack of competence in a person’s application of abilities, skills, and knowledge to accomplish their goals. It is this absence of needed skills that the therapist aids the client in developing skills that increase competence, confidence, and empowerment (Kaduson, Cangelosi, & Schaefer, 2020). As professionals there is a desire to present clients with coping skills that could easily be taught, mastered and used in most situation, such as focused breathing and muscle relaxation (Kaduson & Schaefer, 2015). Additionally, when developing a strategy for children it is important to help the parents by providing psychoeducation and skill building for the purpose of helping the child use adults as a support rather than a crutch in order to teach them how to independently cope with anxiety or fear.

Coping Skills by Type

Before providing a sample list of coping strategies it would be prudent to explain that there are different types. Just as we stated earlier people tend to overgeneralize coping skills, and similarly by providing a short definition this writer is guilty of oversimplifying the term. Just like some coping skills are social skills and vice versa, some coping skills overlap with each other in different categories. Kaduson, Cangelosi, and Schaefer (2020) give an excellent example, think of coping skills and problem-solving skills as tools in a toolbox. Each tool is meant to handle different types of problems and provide outlets in the areas of physical, social, creative, and relaxation skills. By creating a coping toolbox or even a restaurant menu a child, adolescent, or adult can easily see which strategies they used and for what and when. There is some question if we should subcategorize coping skills at all. The reason being that if we categorize them, we will ignore the flexibility of some coping skills. For example, learning to apologize to yourself and others can help someone both behaviorally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and aid in relaxation. With that in mind the following is a list of examples coping skills and strategies used in various situations. These examples are from different types of therapeutic approaches and by no means are they a definitive list of all coping strategies available. Also if your looking to make your own list based off of specific interests I suggest the “Make My List” feature from the 99 Coping Skills on the website

Source: Adapted from Bernard (2004); Grant (2017); Ingram (2006); Kaduson, Cangelosi, et al. (2020); Kaduson & Schaefer (2015); Pascuas (2017)

Applying What You Know

As stated before, the list above is not exhaustive and this writer purposely chose to not categorize them further. When developing this list, its purpose is as a handout for my clients, to generate new ideas, as well as showing them to use what they know. We had a client in the office whose mother had been asking to understand the therapeutic aspect of what I do. I began to let her see the thought process behind my notes and what I look for in each session. We started talking about coping and social skills and how she would like a handout of those as well. This last week I presented the freshly minted list provided in this post. The mother hated it, she wanted more organization, to know how “blowing bubbles,” is a skill. I responded with, “Well, this is a rough draft, and I plan on paring the list down to focus on what I tend to use in session,” as I tried to explain in greater detail her took her copy of the list and began circling the ones she preferred. Dropping what we were doing I began following the direction her daughter was taking. Had I designed the list the way myself or her mother wanted I do not know if we would have gotten the break throughs that she needed for that session.

Similarly, on that same day I have a client that I only just started doing home visits for. The family seems to be knowledgeable about the child’s strengths and coping strategies in the home but his major problem is in the school. If you ask him what strategies he uses in school he had trouble explaining something without using a negative. So, for example, he would say he was demonstrating safety by ‘not hitting,’ while in class. It took several minutes to get him and the parents to explain what is the positive thing that he is doing. Often, we tell ourselves what not to do, rather than what we should be doing. The joke during session is to try not to think of a giant pink elephant. To tell yourself to not do something, you must envision yourself doing it first. When you look at the list provided, the coping skills are positive actions that the person is taking, things that they are adding to their lives. Even if it is only to provide a momentary distraction from their troubles, they are not thinking of doing the thing they seek to avoid. Eventually the child picked reading, and standing on the floor as positive alternatives to hitting and standing on tables. Afterwards we played one of his board games, as he began talking about his game, he realized he created a backstory for the pieces all on his own. I used that as a moment to point out that his creativity can be a coping skill as well. If myself or my clients had stayed within the same confines of our previous definitions of coping skills, we would have missed the one they develop for themselves


The aim of this post was to provide a quick and clear definition of what coping skills are with examples. Throughout the writing process it was clear to see that there are as many different coping strategies as there are people, and what works for one person may not work for another. That is why I felt it was vital to give a wide range of examples while introducing the idea of categorical subtypes and leaving that up to the reader to decide how best to categorize them if at all. Since going forward we will be talking about how different games help to create situations to develop various types of skills. It was important for me to provide a list of coping skills in this post, and social skills in the previous post before moving on with the blog. I am aware that my writing will be influenced by my theoretical approach and orientation by providing the framework of my thought process I hope that I have made it easier for people to create divergent thoughts and theories. In doing so we can begin to see how a gameplay approach to therapeutic interventions will differ based on philosophy and application of the tools provided. Lastly, regarding application in session, as I was writing this, I immediately thought of a coping skills variant of Sushi Go and wondered if deep breathing would be the wasabi since it goes with everything.

Feel free to leave your questions, comments, and suggestions in the area provided. I would love some advice as to how to make that list palatable for both client and clinician.


Bernard, M.E. (2004). The rebt therapist’s pocket companion for working with children and adolescents. New York, NY: Albert Ellis Institute

Grant, R. J. (2017). Play-based interventions for autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. New York, NY: Routlledge

Ingram, B. (2006). Clinical case formulations: matching the integrative treatment plan to the client. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

Kaduson, H.; Cangelosi, D. and Schaefer, C.E. (2020). Prescriptive play therapy: tailoring interventions for specific childhood problems. New York, NY; The Guilford Press

Kaduson, H. and Schaefer, C.E. (2015). Short-term play therapy for children. New York, NY; The Guilford Press

Pascuas, C. (2017). Social skills handbook for autism: activities to help kids learn social skills and make friends. Edx Autism Publishing

Write in a Journal or Blog

Source: Adapted from Bernard (2004); Grant (2017); Ingram (2006); Kaduson, Cangelosi, et al. (2020); Kaduson & Schaefer (2015); Pascuas (2017)

Keywords: coping skills, counseling, education, social work, therapy, skill building, skill deficient