Coping Techniques Explained
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The first effective coping technique I learned in therapy was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The psychologist used this to help with my original diagnosis: clinical depression with anorexia nervosa and generalized anxiety disorder. Practicing this taught me how to identify emotions and negative thinking patterns so I could change them. The psychologist also taught me how my emotions and thoughts influenced my behavior. By changing one, I could change the others.
Self-Help Books, Websites, etc.
The next group of techniques came from a series of books. Working through lessons in the books taught me how to identify triggers, calm myself down when I felt the anxiety, relax, and refocus on the present. By using those strategies, I could recognize patterns in my behavior and work to stop self-harm behaviors by using different coping strategies instead. They helped me find new and creative ways to apply my CBT skills and improve on existing skills like meditation and deep breathing too. I have a list of my favorite self-help resources here.
Caveats for self-help resources:
- These resources are guides, not substitutes for qualified professional assistance
- They can provide factual information, lessons for learning the basic techniques, and useful suggestions
- They cannot solve your problems and make the issues go away
- Not all resources are created equal; be wary of anything you read and/or listen to, especially if the resource claims it can solve your your problem
- If you get frustrated or don’t understand, it’s not your fault. This may be a good time to reach out and find other supports to assist you on the recovery path.
- Finally, read, visit, or listen to multiple information sources on the same topic before deciding which techniques to use
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
The third coping technique I learned was dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). The creator of this therapy is a survivor and renowned therapist named Marsha Linehan. Ms. Linehan has Borderline Personality Disorder and created DBT to help her cope with overwhelming emotions and her reactions to them. I use DBT for feelings of anger, shame, and guilt. And to help me cope with body memories. My parts use DBT to help with distress tolerance and emotion regulation that comes from being triggered into flashbacks and nightmares all the time.
If you haven’t noticed already, my internal and external lives are very different with their own perspectives, priorities, and experiences. Living on the inside and the outside simultaneously requires cooperation and compromise from everyone involved. It also requires a lot of trust and the development of a system to keep our internal world functional and running smoothly. That brings me to the final coping technique addressed in this post: Internal Family Systems.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model
We are lucky because we are all aware of each other and want to live a full, enjoyable, healthy life together. That means we work together and help each other instead of working against each other and hurting each other. We feel safe enough to ask for help, to set individual and group boundaries, and to use open communication to address problems instead of holding it in or casting blame. Not everyone with DID is that lucky.
I learned about IFS from my current therapist and started using it actively in 2012. The main point of IFS is that every part has a voice and gets heard. On the inside, all important decisions are made by committee using 1) majority vote; or 2) unanimous vote. We have also created a “family hierarchy” of sorts so that everyone shares essential chores and responsibilities equal to their age, developmental stage, and ability. For example, adults take on adult responsibilities like work, transportation, finances, etc. Adolescents have chores, responsibilities, and time to explore. Children get to be children and have chores to complete every day.
We all work together to establish and maintain communication lines. We all have to compromise and find solutions that work for the system when flashbacks and other symptoms threatens to overwhelm us. We are all responsible for making good choices, working together, making our internal and external worlds safe, and learning coping strategies to weather the ups and downs of recovery. Especially when parts get stuck in the past, trapped by traumatic memories (monsters), or lost and get triggered to the point of using automatic defense mechanisms and self-harm to cope.
Without learning and using IFS, none of us would be in the healthy, safe, happy place that allows us to share this information on the blog and the website.
Here is a list of some other useful coping techniques. I do not mention them above because they require assistance from an experienced mental health provider to be most effective.
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
- Trauma sensitive yoga and other types of moving meditation
Medication is not a coping technique or strategy I use except under certain conditions:
- Not sleeping for 36 or more hours
- Intense physical pain that keeps me awake and unable to move
- Real physical illness like a cold or the flu
I choose not to use medication because medication makes me physically ill. I am extremely chemical sensitive and will get the side effects from even the smallest doses (the 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 100 person described in the small print).
This does not mean I am against using medication. If medication works, please use it. But don’t expect to see many posts about the benefits of medication as a healthy coping strategy here. I cannot speak to that topic and work hard not to pass judgement or bias readers for or against any strategies here.