Can You Benefit from Stress Inoculation Training?

· December 19, 2018
Anyone can use stress inoculation training to develop coping strategies. Read more here!

Donald Meichenbaum developed stress inoculation as a cognitive-behavioral procedure to help reduce stress. Stress inoculation was initially designed to treat anxiety. These days, health care professionals recommend stress inoculation training for a variety of anxiety-related disorders.

Stress inoculation training (SIT) isn’t an isolated technique but a generic term that refers to a particular type of treatment. The treatment consists of a training plan with concrete methods.

The treatment plan combines the following elements: didactic teaching, Socratic discussion, cognitive restructuring, problem-solving, retraining, behavioral role-playing exercises, self-registering, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.

Anyone can use stress inoculation training to develop coping strategies for current problems as well as future challenges.

A stressed woman at work.

Stress inoculation training is like medical inoculation against certain illnesses

Stress inoculation training offers people active strategies they can use to defend themselves during stressful situations. In some ways, it’s analogous to medical inoculation of certain biological illnesses.

Just like medical inoculation, SIT tries to create “psychological antibodies”. These antibodies are the individual’s coping skills.

So, what SIT does is try to strengthen your resistance through exposure to stimuli that are strong enough to activate your defense mechanisms but not powerful enough to overcome them. That way, the patient develops a sense of “learned resources” thanks to their experience.

In what situations can SIT be useful?

According to Meichenbaum (2009), SIT is useful for coping with the four types of stressors categorized by Eliot and Eisdorfer (1982). They are:

  • Acute time-limited stressors. These are stressful events that happen once and don’t last long (for example, driving tests or medical tests).
  • Stressful event sequences. These refer to stressful, concrete, and important life events (i.e. sexual abuse, losing a job, losing a loved one, etc.).
  • Chronic-intermittent stressors: Repeated exposure to stressful situations. Some examples are repeated medical tests, military combat, etc.
  • Chronic continual stressors. These include coping with long-term medical or psychiatric problems or long-term emotional issues.

Specifically, SIT is best for:

  • Teaching patients the nature of stress and how to cope.
  • Training patients to control their thoughts, images, feelings, and behavior. The end goal is to help them interpret things in a realistic and well-adjusted way.
  • Teaching patients to problem solve.
  • Modeling and reproducing real behavior, emotional control, and self-control coping strategies.
  • Teaching patients how to use maladjusted answers as signals that alert them to put their coping strategies into practice.
  • Offering role-playing sessions to build patients’ confidence in using their coping strategies.
  • Helping patients acquire enough knowledge to be able to handle unexpected and stressful situations.
A woman practicing stress inoculation training.

Goals of stress inoculation training

The objectives of SIT focus on three main areas:

  • Promoting proper self-regulating activity. This means reducing or suppressing the intensity of self-verbalizations, images, or disturbing emotions. Likewise, SIT seeks to increase well-adjusted behavior.
  • Modification of maladjusted behavior and increasing or establishing well-adjusted behavior. 
  • Revision and modification of cognitive structures that promote a negative view of oneself and the world.

Phases of stress inoculation training

SIT can be divided into three different phases: 1) Conceptualization phase, 2) Skills acquisition and rehearsal phase, and 3) Application and follow through phase.

Conceptualization phase

The goals of this phase are to identify and define the problem the person has. The goal is also to help them understand the problem’s nature and its effects on their emotions and behavior. The patient should also define their therapy goals in this phase.

This phase is very important. We can also call it the educational phase because this is when the patient understands their problem and how to approach it.

Skills acquisition and rehearsal phase

In this second phase, the patient (with the help of the therapist), reviews, learns, and practices coping strategies. These strategies allow them to deal with the stressful situations that came up in the conceptualization phase.

During this phase, the patient learns to seek out, utilize, and maintain social support in an effective way. They also use role-playing to practice coping strategies. They discuss and give feedback on how they’re doing with their new strategies.

A woman speaking to her therapist.

Application and follow through phase

The goals are varied in this phase. One of them is to put the new strategies into practice in real life. The patient should test the usefulness of their new skills and correct problems that come up during the exposure process. This phase is completely connected to the previous phase. To acquire a skill, you have to practice it, first during sessions with a therapist and then in real-life situations.

As you can see, stress inoculation training is a complex set of techniques and procedures that can help people cope with stress. It’s made up of three phases and it can help people deal with stressful situations both in the present and future.