6 Scales to Measure Coping + The Brief Cope Inventory

coping scalesSometimes life seems to pile up all at once.

We find ourselves trying to juggle a multitude of daily challenges, large and small, or unexpected events that send our anxiety or stress responses into a tailspin.

When this happens, it can be difficult to take a moment to check-in and see how we’re really coping. We might think we’re doing okay and participating in supportive behaviors, but how accurate is that really? And how do we reflect adequately to address where we might be indulging in behaviors that are counterintuitive to help us cope effectively?

As ever, positive psychology might hold the tools and resources that can help us. One type of resource you can tap into are scales for measuring coping.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you to effectively cope with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students or employees.

What Do Coping Questionnaires Measure Exactly?

Coping questionnaires aim to measure your coping strategies and ability to self-regulate in response to different experienced stressors.

Perhaps when we’re trying to understand what coping questionnaires measure, a good place to start is by understanding what we mean by ‘coping.’ Different cognitive psychological theories have attempted to define coping. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) defined it as:

Constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.

Individual behaviors relating to coping can be challenging to measure, as we respond differently to the same type of stressor, depending on several different factors including our character traits, specific environment, support networks, and individual life experiences.

How we cope as individuals may also change as we develop, and just because we respond to one scenario in one way, doesn’t mean we’ll react to it the same way if it happens again.

Coping questionnaires are helping us to understand our coping strategies at any given moment towards different situations in our lives. Coping strategies can be positive, for example, tapping into your social support network, or negative, such as turning to alcohol or drugs.

A Look at the Reliability and Validity

Most of the research on coping is divided into exploring two key areas: coping styles or coping strategies. While they seem similar, there is a core distinction between the two:

Coping Styles

Coping style refers to your disposition towards handling challenging situations or stressors. Endler and Parker (1990) suggested that there are three basic coping styles: task-oriented, emotion-oriented, and avoidance-oriented. Your coping style may stay consistent across different situations and experiences, and the coping strategies you use within this may change and adapt.

Research into coping styles has received a fair amount of criticism. The main criticism is that that in focusing only on coping styles, the variability and complexity of coping efforts overall are not captured effectively, and stifles predictive validity within the research (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).

The researchers argue that a better evaluation and validity can be developed by focusing on coping strategies within specific contexts, rather than how someone copes with stress generally.

Coping Strategies

Studies that use coping scales or measurements focused on measuring coping strategies for specific situations or stressors have been found to be more valid and reliable (Daniels and Harris, 2005, Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).

Greenaway et al. (2015) conducted a review of 6 different coping measures. They found that overall, these types of measures tended to have higher validity, but some tests had poorer test-retest reliability than others (specifically The Ways of Coping Questionnaire).

One of the main criticisms for the validity and reliability of coping scales and measures for coping strategies is that they ask participants to recall stressful experiences or respond to hypothetical situations that fail to measure ‘in the moment’ coping responses (Porter and Stone, 1996, Steptoe, 1989).

Overall, researchers agree there is some weakness to these measurements; however, they can still be a great tool and resource. Greenaway et al. (2015) summarised that low to moderate inconsistencies with coping measures should not deter their use, but that researchers need to be rigorous in selecting the scales or questionnaires they use with their particular participant groups.

The COPE Inventory

The COPE inventory was created by Carver (1989). It is a multi-dimensional inventory developed to asses the different coping strategies people use in response to stress. COPE stands for Coping Orientation to Problems Experienced.

The inventory is a list of statements that participants review and score. There are two main components to the COPE inventory: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

Five scales aim to measure each of these:

Problem-focused coping

  1. Active Coping
  2. Planning
  3. Suppression of Competing Activities
  4. Restraint Coping
  5. Seeking of Instrumental Social Support

Example statements from the inventory include ‘I concentrate my efforts on doing something about it’ and ‘I take additional action to try to get rid of the problem.’

Emotion-focused coping

  1. Seeking of Emotional Social Support
  2. Positive Reinterpretation
  3. Acceptance
  4. Denial
  5. Turning to Religion

Example statements from the inventory include ‘I discuss my feelings with someone’ and ‘I seek God’s help.’

It also contains three scales aimed at measuring coping responses:

  1. Focus on and Venting of Emotions
  2. Behavioral Disengagement
  3. Mental Disengagement

Example statements from the inventory include ‘I get upset and let my emotions out’ and ‘I get upset, and am really aware of it.’

How Does Scoring Work?

To score the COPE Inventory, you need to first respond to each of the statements with a score from 1 to 4, as follows:

1 = I usually don’t do this at all
2 = I usually do this a little bit
3 = I usually do this a medium amount
4 = I usually do this a lot

Each statement in the inventory is then connected to a specific coping strategy that sits under either the problem-focused, emotion-focused, or coping response measures. Your scores will inform you which form of coping strategy you are more engaged in.

For example, Active Coping in the inventory is measured with the following four statements:

  • I concentrate my efforts on doing something about it.
  • I take additional action to try to get rid of the problem.
  • I take direct action to get around the problem.
  • I do what has to be done, one step at a time.

If you were to give these statements higher scores – such as a 3 or 4 – you would score highly as using Active Coping as one of your coping strategies. If you scored low – with a 1 or 2 – then Active Coping would not be one of your core coping strategies.

This scoring can help you ascertain which measures are your most reliable coping strategies from the different ones utilized in the inventory.

Access a full copy of the COPE Inventory, including scoring.

The Carver Brief COPE Inventory (+PDF)

One of the challenges and criticisms of the COPE Inventory was its length. The Brief COPE Inventory was adapted by Carver (1997) and is an abbreviated version of the full COPE Inventory.

The Brief COPE Inventory consists of only 28 statements, across two scales, and is more focused on understanding the frequency with which people use different coping strategies in response to various stressors. Participants using the inventory, score themselves from 1 to 4 with 1 being ‘I haven’t been doing this at all’ and 4 being ‘I’ve been doing this a lot.

Statements from the scale include things like:

  • I’ve been turning to work or other activities to take my mind off things.
  • I’ve been concentrating my efforts on doing something about the situation I’m in.
  • I’ve been saying to myself, “this isn’t real.”

Download the full Brief Cope Inventory and scoring instructions.

The Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES)

Similar to the COPE Inventory, the Coping Self-Efficacy Scale (CSES) was created to measure an individual’s confidence in their coping strategies when it comes to handling challenges and stressors.

It was authored by Chesney et al. (2006) in partnership with Dr. Albert Bandura from Stanford University and initially developed for use with staff and patients at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

The CSES contains 26 items which are prefaced by the statement ‘When things aren’t going well for you, or when you’re having problems, how confident are you that you can do the following.’

Example statements include things like:

  • Make new friends.
  • Do something positive for yourself when you are feeling discouraged.
  • Make unpleasant thoughts go away.
  • Think about one part of the problem at a time.

How Does Scoring Work?

Participants using the scale are asked to give each of the 26 statements a personal score from 0 to 10 as follows:

0 = Cannot do at all
5 = Moderately confident I can do
10 = Certain I can do

A final score is created by summing all of the individual scores. A higher score indicates a high level of self-efficacy when it comes to implementing positive coping strategies. A lower score indicates a lower level of self-efficacy.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the scale, please email the author, Dr. Margaret Chesney to request permission at margaret.chesney@ucsf.edu.

The Brief Resilient Coping Scale (BRCS)

The Brief Resilient Coping Scale (BRCS) is an even shorter measure of resilient coping, designed by Sinclair and Walston (2004), to capture an individual’s ability to cope with stress in highly adaptive ways.

When the researchers say brief – they mean brief! The measure contains only four statements, that participants rate from 1 (Does not describe me at all) to 5 (Describes me very well).

After giving each of the four statements a score, participants sum up their responses for a final score. A high score – between 17 and 20 – indicates that you are a highly resilient coper, and a low score – between 4 and 13 – suggests that you are a low resilient coper.

Access the Brief Resilient Coping Scale, including scoring.

The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI)

The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI) was developed by Greenglass and Schwarzer (1998). The PCI was created to measure different proactive approaches to coping and contains seven subscales to achieve this:

  1. Proactive Coping
  2. Preventive Coping
  3. Reflective Coping
  4. Strategic Planning
  5. Instrumental Support Seeking
  6. Emotional Support Seeking
  7. Avoidance Coping

There are 55 statements in total in the inventory, and participants are asked to give each statement a score between 1 (Not at all true) and 4 (Completely true). Example statements include:

  • I like challenges and beating the odds.
  • I visualize my dreams and try to achieve them.
  • Despite numerous setbacks, I usually succeed in getting what I want.
  • I try to pinpoint what I need to succeed.

The statements are grouped by the subscale they relate to (so the examples above all relate to the Proactive Coping subscale) and then totals are used to ascertain which subscales of coping you use the most.

Access the full Proactive Coping Inventory, including scoring.

The Dyadic Coping Inventory (DCI)

The Dyadic Coping Inventory (DCI) was created by Bodenmann (2008) and is slightly different from the other scales mentioned in this article in that it was specifically developed to be used within close relationships, for when one or both partners are experiencing stress.

It contains 37 statements that aim to measure communication and dyadic coping. Dyadic coping relates closely to partners in close relationships and strategies include:

  • Supportive
  • Delegated
  • Negative
  • Joint

Dyadic coping also involves:

  1. One partner’s attempt to reduce the stress of the other partner.
  2. A joint effort from both partners to deal with stress that may impact their relationship.

The DCI contains six subscales that ask each person to reflect on how they communicate stress to their partner, how their partner responds, how their partner communicates they are stressed, how they react to their partner’s stress, how they behave when both partners are stressed, and how you cope as a couple.

Example statements include:

  • When my partner feels he/she has too much to do, I help him/her out.
  • When my partner is stressed, I tend to withdraw.
  • We help one another to put the problem in perspective and see it in a new light.

Each statement is given a score between 1 (Very rarely) and 4 (Very often). Higher scores reflect higher dyadic coping for each of the subscales.

Access to the full Dyadic Coping Inventory, including scoring instructions.

A Take-Home Message

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coping scales and questionnaires! There have been many more developed that aim to provide insights for specific challenges and stressors that may be experienced by individuals, as well as scales that can be used with different groups – including young children and teenagers.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it’s that our coping strategies and styles can develop and change over time, as we grow, learn and develop through our experiences.

Coping scales are a great way to understand further your ways of coping at one point in time, and should be revisited often so you can develop an on-going relationship with your coping styles and reflect on how you might be able to improve.

Have you used any coping scales or questionnaires yourself? I’d love to hear about your personal experiences in the comments.

We hope you found this article useful. Don’t forget to download our 3 Resilience Exercises for free.

References

  • Bodenmann, G. (2008). Dyadisches Coping Inventar: Testmanual [Dyadic Coping Inventory: Test manual]. Bern, Switzerland: Huber.
  • Carver, C. (1989).
  • Carver, C. (1997). You want to measure coping but your protocol’s too long: Consider the brief COPE. International Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 4
  • Chesney, M. A., Neilands, T. B., Chambers, D. B., Taylor, J. M., Folkman, S. (2006). A validity and reliability study of the coping self-efficacy scale. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1602207/
  • Endler, N. S., & Parker, J. D. A. (1990). Multidimensional assessment of coping: A critical evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58.
  • Daniels, K., and Harris, C. (2005). A daily diary study of coping in the context of job demands-control-support model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66.
  • Greenaway, K., Louis, W. R., Parker, S. L., & Kalokerinos, E. (2015). Measures of Coping for Psychological Well-Being. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282566883_Measures_of_Coping_for_Psychological_Well-Being
  • Greenglass, E. & Schwarzer, R. (1998). The Proactive Coping Inventory (PCI). In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Advances in health psychology research (CD-ROM). Berlin: Free University of Berlin.
  • Lazarus, R., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.
  • Porter, L. & Stone, A. (1996). An approach to assessing daily coping. In Zeidner, M. and Endler, N. (Eds). Handbook of Coping: Theory, Research, and Applications. Oxford, UK.
  • Sinclair, V. G., & Wallston, K.A. (2004). The development and psychometric evaluation of the Brief Resilient Coping Scale. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14994958
  • Steptoe, A. (1989). An abbreviated version of the Miller Behavioral Style Scale. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28.

Comments

What our readers think

  1. Suyeon Ban

    Hi, Thank you for your kindness
    I am Suyeon Ban, Ph.D student in Korea university.
    I have found a coping scale for CRPS patients and also consider developing disease-specific measurement if I cannot find it.
    Could you recommend it for me?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Caroline Rou

      Hi Suyeon,

      Thank you for your comment. I would love to help you find an appropriate scale. Could you tell me a little bit more about exactly what kind of scale and disease-specific measurements you are looking for?

      That would help me greatly. Thanks!

      – Caroline | Community Manager

      Reply
  2. Mina

    Hi there! I’m a graduate social work student and am hoping to conduct research on the coping skills of adolescent clients in a partial hospitalization program (PHP); I want to measure their perceived coping skills at admission and at discharge so I can track any changes. I was wondering what would be the most appropriate scale to use for this population/setting. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Mina,

      Thanks for your question. What sorts of conditions are your sample being hospitalized for (e.g., psychiatric disorders)? Knowing this will help me recommend the most appropriate scale.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Mina

        I have not started my internship yet, but from past experience with this age group, I would assume they are being hospitalized for anxiety disorders, mood disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts, and perhaps disruptive behavior disorders.

        Reply
        • Caroline Rou

          Hi Mina,

          From the coping scales mentioned in this article, the COPE Inventory would probably give you the most comprehensive overview of perceived coping. However, since you are testing an adolescent population, the ACS-2 (Adolescent Coping Scale) could be suitable. It is noteworthy that this scale is subject to several limitations. You might be interested in this article which compares several adolescent coping scales.

          I hope this helps!

          – Caroline | Community Manager

          Reply
          • Mina

            Hi Caroline,
            Thank you so much! This is very helpful.

  3. Nirmala Basnet

    Hello,
    I am Nirmala Basnet from sann nursing collage affiliated to purbanchal university,nepal.we are conducting research title” anxiety and coping strategies regarding pubertal change among early adolescents girl.We researche would like to ask for your permission to use the “cope Inventory” for our research.

    Reply
  4. Nirmala Basnet

    Hello,
    I am Nirmala Basnet from sann nursing collage affiliated to purbanchal university,Nepal.I am currently conducting a study with the topic” anxiety and coping strategies regarding pubertal change among early adolescents girl in slum area”.which aims to determine the association between anxiety regarding pubertal change and coping strategies among early adolescent girl.May i know which instrument is applicable to my study?or if i needed to create a questionnaire to measure which scale do you think would be the most suitable to my study?

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Nirmala,

      Thanks for your question. I’ve done a quick search and I can’t see a coping scale assessing anxiety around perceptions of puberty itself (rather, coping with mood fluctuations brought on by puberty, etc.). So in this instance, I suspect you may need to develop a scale.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Nirmala Basnet

        thank you so much for your help.

        Reply
  5. Louis Henry Sullivan Irinco Ong

    Greetings!

    I am Louis Henry Sullivan I. Ong, a nursing student from National University – Manila of Philippines and currently,we are conducting a research title ” The Influence of Study Habits and Coping Mechanisms to Course Enhancement Performance of Nursing Students. We researchers would like to ask for your permission to use the inventory ” Brief-COPE ” for our research.

    Best Regards,
    Louis Henry Sullivan I. Ong

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Louis,

      The Brief COPE inventory is freely available for use and can be accessed here: https://scienceofbehaviorchange.org/measures/brief-cope/
      You do not need permission from the author to use it for research purposes.

      Hope this helps, and best of luck with your research.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  6. Nikki Danielle

    Hello, I will be conducting a thesis study about “Post-Traumatic Growth and Coping Strategies of Bereaved Parents.” And I was planning to use the BRIEF-COPE but unfortunately it has many subscales. Now I have found an alternative and I am planning to use the “Proactive Coping Inventory”. Do you still think it is suitable for my thesis? I am studying how parents who have lost a child cope with the grief and loss. Thank you and I am looking forward to hearing from you. 

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Nikki,

      If the items in this scale suit your study context, I see no reason not to use it. It’s been psychometrically validated and seems to be very widely used. However, I’ll note this scale also has subscales (see the document below for a break down).

      http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~health/pci_faq.pdf

      Best of luck with your research!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  7. Ann Ermoso

    Good day!
    I would like to ask if using the Brief COPE inventory for our study about factors that influence the coping mechanisms of medical technology students is the most appropriate tool. Hoping for a response regarding this matter.
    Thank you and God bless.
    Respectfully yours,

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Ann,

      I tend to recommend Sullivan’s (2009) academic coping scale when it comes to student coping.

      https://doi.org/10.1177/1534508408327609

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Nikki Danielle

        Thank you so much and looking forward to hearing from you.

        Reply
  8. Tul-ao, S.

    Hello, we are conducting research right now about Psychological Stress and Coping Strategies and we would want to adopt one of the Coping Scales specifically the Brief COPE Inventory. Do we need to write a permission letter or is it free to download and use? Thank you and looking forward to hearing from you.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Tul-ao,

      This scale is free to download and use for research purposes without obtaining permission from the authors.

      Hope this helps!

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
    • Tul-ao, S.

      Hello Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.. Hope you can read my comment ASAP. Thanks in advance. 😊

      Reply
  9. Ananya

    Hi!
    I found your article very helpful. I would like to know about coping scales which are researcher- administered (or it can be both researcher administered and self administered).
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Ananya,

      Glad you liked the article! Any of the coping scales discussed here can be self-administered or administered by a researcher.

      Hope this helps.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
  10. Noyonika

    good article, I am doing my Ph.D. on coping strategies of college students in relation to their academic achievement, please suggest me an appropriate scale for my study.

    Reply
    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Noyonika,

      Perhaps take a look at Sullivan’s (2009) academic coping scale.

      Let me know if this helps.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      Reply
      • Noyonika

        Thank you so much for your response. I have went through the scale and I think it will quite helpful but I am basically looking for a scale which includes emotional approach also. Looking forward for your response.

        Reply
        • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

          Hi Noyonika,

          No problem. In that case, I might suggest also administering Stanton et al’s (2000) Emotional Processing and Emotional Expression scales.

          – Nicole | Community Manager

          Reply

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