The first MESHGuide from Africa. “Coping diversity”: adaptive coping as a pathway to resilience

Posted on November 01, 2018

This MESHGuide, by Dr Marlize Malan-van Rooyencreates awareness of the diversity in ways people cope with adversity. Stress forms part of people’s daily lives irrespective of age, gender and culture. However people do not necessarily respond to stress in the same manner. Differences in coping behaviours have been ascribed to variables related to the type of adversity people face, people’s culture, their age gender as well as the type of environment they live in. Another variable to consider in coping is the different functions of these behaviours. Certain coping behaviours might contribute to positive development which fosters resilience, whereas others might be maladaptive.

Insight into the diversity of coping strategies ie ‘coping diversity’ could benefit professionals in the educational systems in several ways, including:

  • Understanding coping diversity in learners could enable teaching professionals and educational psychologists to support learners in relevant and meaningful ways.
  • Understanding and identifying one’s own adaptive- and maladaptive coping behaviour could promote mental health.
  • Understanding the greater context of a learner and his/her caregivers could inform teaching professionals and educational psychologists about why learners and their caregivers mediate adversity in a certain way. The latter could help teaching professionals and educational psychologists to build meaningful supportive relationships with the wider system of the learner.

The MESHGuide contains a conceptual framework that was developed based on a completed doctoral study titled: Indigenous Pathways to Adaptive Coping in Rural Communities. Although the study did not focus on the educational context, it resulted in evidence of strategies communities use to cope with adversity which are relevant to any professional.


The study “Indigenous pathways to adaptive coping” formed part of the Indigenous Pathways to Resilience (IPR) project under the leadership of Prof Liesel Ebersöhn. Aforementioned project was conducted under the aegis of the Centre for the Study of Resilience, University of Pretoria in South Africa. Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) was used in a longitudinal comparative case study to generate knowledge on indigenous pathways to resilience.

Note: This conceptual framework is shortened version of the original conceptual framework presented in the actual PhD thesis.

When faced with adversity individuals experience stress, which necessitates coping. Coping involves using coping resources in attempts to mediate adversity. The environment (cultural, social and physical) in which an individual is situated determines the following:

  • The type of adversity individuals’ face.
  • Which coping resources individuals have at their disposal.
  • The way in which individuals use these resources.

The outcome of coping can reduce, sustain or increase adversity. Over time the function of coping can either contribute to a person’s resilience (in which case the coping is considered as adaptive coping) or hinder a person’s resilience (in which case the coping is considered as maladaptive coping). Insight into the knowledge system which underpins an individual’s coping behaviour could provide insight into their behaviour aimed at mediating adversity and could eventually guide support provided to these individuals.


The following questions can be deducted from the conceptual framework:

  • Which cultural values (as reflected by an individual’s knowledge systems) guide the learner’s behaviour?
  • What adversity is the learner facing?
  • What coping resources does the learner have?
  • How does the learner use the coping resources?
  • Which of the coping behaviours are adaptive?
  • Which of the coping behaviours are maladaptive?
  • How can existing adaptive coping behaviours be reinforced?
  • How can new adaptive coping behaviours be established?
  • How can maladaptive coping behaviours be eliminated?

In order to gain insight into the mentioned questions teaching professionals and educational psychologists need to hear the answers from the learners’ perspective. Naturally this will demand obtaining answers through the use of age appropriate activities in a safe space. The learners’ perspective will be embedded in knowledge systems they hold which was influenced by their environment (cultural, social and physical). The latter implies that in order to truly understand the knowledge systems which underpin learners’ behaviours teaching professionals and educational psychologists need to gain an understanding of the wider system in which learners live. In other words, significant others who forms part of learners’ lives, such as parents, need to share their answers to the stipulated questions. Teaching professionals and educational psychologist should also answer these questions from their perspective as they form part of learners’ environment. An integration of all the role players’ answers should provide a basis for support plans.


The stated questions are also relevant to teaching professionals and educational psychologists who can use these questions to guide introspection. The process should enable them to reflect on and identify:

  • Sources of stress.
  • Coping resources
  • Adaptive coping behaviours.
  • Maladaptive coping behaviours.


Insight gained from introspection could enable teaching professionals and educational psychologists to reinforce existing adaptive coping behaviour, establish new adaptive coping behaviours and eliminate maladaptive coping behaviours. A continuous process of maximising adaptive coping behaviours could help address and prevent career related adversity to the extent that teaching professionals and educational psychologists can promote their own resilience.

Published by Thabo Masenamela

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