Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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Volume 83 Issue 2 (June 2010), Pages 113-221

Coping and defence mechanisms: What's the difference?– Second act (pages 207-221)

Purpose. Research into adaptational processes has sometimes been confusing as regards differentiating coping and defence mechanisms. This theoretical discussion is based on Cramer's effort to disentangle the two concepts concerning the psychological processes involved, as well as acknowledge their mutual overlapping. Although such an effort is needed, at the same time several issues should be re‐addressed and further implications on the differentiation of coping and defence processes discussed, such as consciousness and intentionality, functionality, adaptiveness, and the question of trait versus state.

Methods. Based on Cramer's review, a search was conducted for current models on defence and coping that address the aforementioned implications. Only theoretical models that differentiate the defence and coping concepts, without necessarily presenting related empirical evidence, were taken into account.

Results. Recent integrative models of defence and coping yield a more differentiated picture with regard to these issues: coping includes conscious and unconscious efforts, coping and defence serve very similar functions, adaptiveness can be defined in qualitative (defences) and quantitative (coping) terms and the question of stability of defences and coping needs to be more fully explored empirically. Furthermore, the nature of the underlying fear can be theoretically differentiated and related to the difference between coping and defence. Also, the implication of competence‐related aspects of functioning (coping) and of internal determinants of functioning (defence) is discussed.

Conclusions. Implications for research perspectives implying defence and coping concepts based on observer‐rating methodology are proposed.

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