Just got the latest issue of Journal of Counseling Psychology (2007:54, 3, pp 344-350). In it Kimberly Schnider and her professor, Jon Elhai, and Matt Gray have examined the relationship between coping style (skills) and the severity of PTSD and/or complicated grief (CG). To study this relationship they surveyed 123 college students who had experienced an unexpected death of a close loved one. They hypothesized that active coping skills would serve students better than avoidant ones.
So, what did they find? At first they found that both active or problem-focused coping AND passive/avoidant coping strategies were positively correlated with severity of PTSD and complicated grief. Surprising. However, when they conducted a path analysis to control for “time since the most recent loss and trauma frequency…” (p. 347), they found that avoidant coping (denial, shutting down emotions, etc.) best accounts for the variance in severity of PTSD and CG.
So, we learn PTSD and CG may not be helped by any one coping response. But certainly, avoidant coping styles may make symptoms worse in the long run. While distraction-based coping strategies seem to help clients in the short run, they should not be used in a way that causes the person to disconnect from some of the more painful emotions.