The Evidence Portal

Coping Skills

About the program

The primary goal of Coping Skills is to educate students about stress and health and facilitate the development of adaptive coping skills to manage stress.

Coping Skills is a manualised program that teaches four skills to manage controllable and uncontrollable stress, including problem solving & expressive writing (primary control coping skills) and mindful acceptance & cognitive reappraisal (secondary control coping skills).

Coping Skills content is taught through didactic instruction, modelling, role-playing and homework assignments.

Who does it work for?

Coping Skills has only been evaluated in the USA. A randomized control trial (Bettis et al. 2017) was conducted with 62 participants (30 in the intervention group, 32 in the control group). This program was designed for 18–22-year-old youth with no clinical diagnoses of mental health disorders, autism spectrum disorder or displaying clinically significant symptoms of anxiety, depression or eating disorders. Participants were full-time university students, and most were 19 years old. The sample was predominantly female (81%) and nearly three quarters (72%) of participants identified as ‘Euro-American’.

Coping Skills has not been evaluated in Australia or with Aboriginal Australians.

What outcomes does it contribute to?


  • Coping Skills participants reported decreased stress levels
  • Coping skills participants reported improved executive function skills.

No effect:

  • No effect on participants’ primary control coping skills (changing the stressor or acting directly upon one’s emotions)
  • No effect on participants’ disengagement coping skills (adapting to the stressor)
  • No effect on participants’ secondary control coping skills (avoiding the stressor)

How effective is it?

Overall, the program had a mixed effect on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Mixed research evidence (with no adverse effects):

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT)/quasi-experimental design (QED) study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • An equal number or more RCT/QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT/QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

The Coping Skills program is delivered over 6 weeks with sessions held weekly. The first and last sessions serve as an introduction and conclusion to the course, with the final session including a content review and discussion. Groups comprised 6-8 students and were led by 1-2 group leaders.

The Coping Skills program teaches 4 skills to manage controllable and uncontrollable stress, including:

  • Problem-solving: introduction to problem-solving for controllable stressful situations, apply problem-solving.
  • Expressive writing: review emotions in response to stress, introduction to expressive writing to regulate negative emotions, practice expressive writing in session.
  • Mindful Acceptance: Introduction to acceptance and mindfulness, practice mindful acceptance for uncontrollable stressors.
  • Cognitive Reappraisal: Introduction to cognitive reappraisal/positive but realistic thinking, practice cognitive reappraisal for uncontrollable stressors.

Skills were taught through didactic instruction, modelling, role-playing and 5 sessions included a homework assignment.

How much does it cost?

No costs are reported for the Coping Skills program in the study.

What else should I consider?

The Coping Skills program requires students to learn a new skill every session. Additional sessions may be necessary to produce improvements in coping among participants.

Where does the evidence come from?

1 RCT conducted in the USA with 62 participants (Bettis et al., 2017).

Further resources

Bettis, AH, Coiro, MJ, England, J, Murphy, LK, Zelkowitz, RL, Dejardins, L, Eskridge, R, Hieber Adery, L, Yarboi, J, Pardo, D, & Compas, BE 2017, ‘Comparison of two approaches to prevention of mental health problems in college students: Enhancing coping and executive function skills’, Journal of American College Health, vol. 65, pp. 313-322,

Last updated:

09 Dec 2022

Was this content useful?
We will use your rating to help improve the site.
Please don't include personal or financial information here
Please don't include personal or financial information here

We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future. 

Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.

You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.

Top Return to top of page Top