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Western Washington University

Fairhaven 440A

(4 credits)


Spring Quarter, 1999


Instructor -- Joseph E. Trimble, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology; Professor, Woodring College of Education

Office Hours -- Miller Hall 271 - Tuesday and Thursday 1 - 2 PM. Others by appointment.

Textbook and Readings -- Moos, Rudolf A. (Ed.) (1986). Coping with life crises: An integrated approach, NY: Plenum. In addition, selected readings collected from journal articles are listed below under each of the topic areas.

Prerequisites -- Fairhaven 101, 204, and 304 or equivalent courses in anthropology, sociology, and psychology or permission of the instructor.

Course Theme

"What stopped inside you yesterday was what people have been telling you the world is like. You see, people tell us from the time that we are born to live in a world that is such and such and so and so, and naturally we have no choice but to see the world the way people have been telling us it is."

-- Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer to the anthropologist Carlos Castenada in "Journey to Ixtlan"

"The process of adapting to a new society corresponds in some respects to that involved in becoming a member of society in the first place, although there is the important difference that resocialization and reculturation involve a transformation of an existing state of affairs."

-- Ronald Taft in "Coping with Unfamiliar Cultures" in "Studies in Cross-Cultural Psychology"

It has often been said that one person's stress is another person's challenge and that yesterday's novelty is today's routine. These observations relate to adaptation. Many behavioral and social scientists argue that adaptive strategies are pre-programmed while others strongly argue that we acquire them through the culture and society in which we have been enculturated. Yet, there is evidence that different societies respond and adapt to problematic life events in quite different ways from one another. Also, there is evidence to suggest that certain cultures are unable to adapt to externally imposed life events because they have never experienced them before. The seminar explores the socio-cultural and psychological process of adapting to rapid social change and problematic transitions that take place during the developmental life span of individuals from different cultural groups. The seminar includes an identification and exploration of a variety of natural and human-made events that present adaptive challenges. In addition, the seminar includes a detailed study of modern adaptation, learning coping skills, and the role societal arrangements play for preserving and sustaining institutions that amend the management of life tasks and demands.

Student and Course Learning Objectives

Upon successfully completing the course, students will be able to:

Knowledge and Understanding

1). Distinguish and identify the basic human developmental life stages and their corresponding developmental tasks.

2). Recognize and explain the salient problematic events likely to be experienced by someone at each of the developmental life stages.

3). Identify and explain at least three socio-cultural and psychological theories that explain how humans cope with and adapt to problematic and stressful life experiences.

4). Describe and illustrate basic social psychological principles individuals and their unique socio-cultural groups use to cope with and adapt to stressful and life threatening events.

5). Distinguish among a range of coping strategies and explain the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors typically generated by each strategy.


6). Analyze and critique scientific research articles that describe some aspect of human developmental life transitions and corresponding problematic events associated with the transition.

7). Conduct in collaboration with others a small scale research project exploring selected characteristics, qualities, traits, or peculiarities associated with humans coping with stressful, problematic, or life threatening events.


8). Reflect and write on coping and adaptation strategies as they relate to your personal life's experiences.

9). Organize a range of coping and adaptation strategies and formulate a plan for use in assisting yourself and others in effectively dealing with stressful and problematic events.


10). Resolve to avoid imposing one's own preferred coping and adjustment schemes onto others unless invited to do so.

Student Evaluation

Student performance in the course and achievement of the student learning outcomes will be evaluated using the following criteria -- consistent regular attendance; active informed participation in seminar discussions that include respect for, support of, and cooperation with others in the class; a willingness to examine personal experiences as they relate to seminar topics; and proficient and demonstrated knowledge of the assigned readings.

In addition, by the end of the quarter, seminar participants must complete a portfolio containing:

1). Five 1-2 page analysis and summary of literature citations (due every other week throughout the 10 week quarter).

2). One 6-8 page essay on a topic provided by the instructor (due during the 5th week of the quarter).

3). One 10 page or more literature research paper dealing with an acceptable topic in the field (due at the end of the 9th week of the quarter).

4). Small group presentation on a research project including a group report following conventional research report writing protocols (due during the final examination period).

Each written assignment will be assigned one of 3 evaluation ratings, as follows: H for Honors; S for Satisfactory; and U for Unacceptable. If you receive a U you must rewrite your paper and turn it in for another evaluation; you have one full week in which to turn in the revision. To avoid receiving a U students can submit a draft version of their paper for review and comment; this option applies only items 2 and 3 above. To receive a passing grade in the seminar students must receive at least an S for all assigned papers.

Each paper will be evaluated on two dimensions: the substantive and the mechanical. The substantive dimension, which will account for 60% of the rating, includes such features as writing style, evidence of considerable work expended, clarity, and ease of reading. The mechanical dimension includes such things as spelling, grammar, and proper sentence structure. Guidelines and criteria for both dimensions are available for student review and use. Papers containing more than 5 obvious mechanical errors will receive a rating of U.

Schedule of Seminar Activities

The following outline contains the general topics and approximate hours allotted for discussion and review of assigned readings. At times, guest lecturers will be invited to the seminar to present and discuss relevant and appropriate material intended to supplement seminar activities. Additionally, a few videos and films will be presented to complement discussions. The seminar is organized around 3 basic units and corresponding parts or sub-units. Assigned readings are listed for each section. Students should familiarize themselves with the outline and the weekly activities, read the material in advance, and be prepared to discuss the readings during the seminar.


Unit I - Introduction to Developmental Life Stages and Coping and Adaptation Theoretical Perspectives (about 6 to 8 hours of class time).


In R. H. Moos - Rudolf H. Moos and Jeanne A Schaefer. Life Transitions and Crisis: A Conceptual Overview.

Nancy K. Schlossberg. A Model for Analyzing Human Adaptation to Transition.

Shelley E. Taylor. Adjustment to Threatening Events: A Theory of Cognitive Adaptation.

Joost Heyink. Adaptation and Well-Being.

Irena Heszen-Niejodek. Coping Style and Its Role in Coping with Stressful Encounters.

Unit II - Developmental Life Stages

Part A - Childhood and the Early Years (about 5 to 6 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Judith S. Wallerstein. Children of Divorce: The Psychological Tasks of the Child.

Esther Elizur and Mordecai Kaffman. Children's Bereavement Reactions Following Death of the Father.

Bruce E. Campas. Coping with Stress During Childhood and Adolescence.

Part B - Adolescence (about 5 to 6 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Robert S. Weiss. Growing Up a Little Faster: The Experience of Growing Up in a Single-Parent Household.

David Balk. Adolescents' Grief Reactions and Self-Concept Perceptions Following Sibling Death.

Susan Panzarine and Arthur B. Elser. Coping in a Group of Expectant Adolescent Fathers.

Joan M. Patterson and Hamilton I. McCubbin. Adolescent Coping Style and Behaviors: Conceptualization and Measurement.

Part C - Young and Middle Age Adulthood (about 4 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Kenneth Kressel. Patterns of Coping in Divorce.

Jean Baker Miller. Psychological Recovery in Low-Income Single Parents.

Jane W. Ransom, Stephen Scheslinger, and Andre P. Derdeyn. A Stepfamily in Formation.

Lois M. Tamir. Men in Middle Age: Developmental Transitions.

Part D - Elderly, Old Age, and Retirement (about 4 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Betsy Robinson and Majda Thurnher. Taking Care of Aged Parents.

Carolyn Cutrona, Dan Russell, and Jayne Rose. Social Support and Adaptation to Stress by the Elderly.

Barbara W. K. Yee. Adaptation in Old Age: Japanese and Vietnamese Elderly Women.

Part E - Death, Dying, and Bereavement (about 3 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Margaret Shandor Miles and Eva K. Brown Crandall. The Search for Meaning and Its Potential for Affecting Growth in Bereaved Parents.

Kathleen B. Bryer. The Amish Way of Death: A Study of Family Support Systems.

John H. Harvey and Eric D. Miller. Toward a Psychology of Loss.

Unit III -- Coping with Unusual Crises and Life threatening Events

Part A - Human-Made and Natural Disasters (about 3 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Michael R. Berren, Allan Beigal, and Stuart Ghertner. A Typology for the Classification of Disasters.

Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Olson. The Human Meaning of Total Disaster.

James W. Pennebaker and Kent D. Harber. A Social Stage Model of Collective Coping: The Loma Prieta Earthquake and the Persian Gulf War.

Part B - Violence and Terrorism (about 3 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - Ann Wolbert Burgess and Linda Lytle Holmstrom. Adapative Strategies and Recovery form Rape.

Frank Ochberg. The Victim of Terrorism.

Part C - Imprisonment and Isolation (about 4 hours of class time).

Readings --

In R. H. Moos - David R. Jones. What Repatriated Prisoners of War Wrote about Themselves.

Paul Chodoff. Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

Peter Suedfield. What Can Abnormal Environments Tell Us About Normal People? Polar Stations as Natural Psychology Laboratories.

Note: Student interest may necessitate spending more or less time on certain topics thus requiring a rearrangement of the topics or time schedules presented above