Coping Through Emotional Approach: Emerging Evidence for the Utility of Processing and Expressing Emotions in Responding to Stressors

Annette L. Stanton, Sarah J. Sullivan and Jennifer L. Austenfeld

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Coping Through Emotional Approach: Emerging Evidence for the Utility of Processing and Expressing Emotions in Responding to Stressors

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Emotional approach coping (EAC) is a construct encompassing the intentional use of emotional processing and emotional expression in efforts to manage adverse circumstances. The construct was developed in an attempt to reconcile a discrepancy between the empirical coping literature, in which an association between the use of emotion-focused coping and maladjustment often is reported, and literature in other areas describing the adaptive roles of emotional processing and expression. At least two significant limitations in the way emotion-focused coping has been operationalized help explain this discrepancy: widely disparate coping strategies, both approach-oriented and avoidance-oriented, are designated as emotion-focused coping in the literature, and some emotion-focused coping items in published measures are confounded with expressions of distress or self-deprecation.

To address these problems in measurement, the EAC scale was developed. The measure includes two correlated but distinct subscales: Emotional Processing (i.e., attempts to acknowledge, explore, and understand emotions) and Emotional Expression (i.e., verbal and/or nonverbal efforts to communicate or symbolize emotional experience). Recent research using this psychometrically sound measure has provided evidence that EAC enhances adjustment to stressors including infertility, sexual assault, and breast cancer. The findings are not uniform, however, and further study of moderators such as the interpersonal context, the nature of the stressor, cognitive appraisals of the stressor, and individual differences is needed, along with additional study of mechanisms for the effects of EAC. Although emotional processing and expression are core components of many clinical approaches, specific measurement of EAC thus far has been limited to only a few clinical intervention trials. An understanding of who benefits from EAC in which contexts and how these benefits accrue will require continued integration of findings from stress and coping research, emotion science, and clinical studies.

Keywords: coping; emotion; emotional approach; stress

Article.  7389 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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