Problem-solving therapy is a treatment that helps people take action in their lives, helping them cope with difficulties, and teaching them to proactively solve their problems. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, problem-solving therapy makes use of cognitive and behavioral interventions, helping people directly work on life's challenges. Problem-solving therapy can help with achieving goals, finding purpose, reducing depression, managing anxiety, and solving relationship problems. Problem-solving therapy has been the subject of recent scientific research, showing it can be helpful not only with psychological problems, but with physical illness as well.
Problem-solving therapy works by teaching people skills to help them take a more active role in their lives, taking more initiative, and utilizing whatever influence they have to effectively make decisions and achieve their goals. By using this treatment approach with one specific problem, people learn to apply it to any other problem they may face, empowering them to face difficulties more independently. As these skills are repeatedly practice, clients often report an increased sense of confidence and agency in many aspects of their lives.
The core components of problem-solving therapy are described below:
Addressing problem orientation: Every person has learned to approach problems differently. Some people naturally take a more submissive approach, avoid the problem or associated conflict. Others take a compulsive approach, addressing the problem aggressively, but without much introspection or creativity. During treatment, thoughts, attitudes, and strategies for solving problems are assessed, and weaknesses are addressed through cognitive and behavioral techniques.
Clearly defining problems: Often people are hindered from solving the problems they face because they cannot clearly define what the actual problem is. For instance, if you identify that you are constantly stressed out at work, you might think that the anxiety is the problem to be solved. In reality, it may be that a lack of assertiveness with your boundaries is the actual problem, resulting in others delegating more work to you, and ultimately in you feeling increased stress.
Brainstorming and evaluating solutions: People who come to therapy often feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the things causing them distress, they feel it is a hopeless task to do anything to address their difficulties. By considering a multitude of potential solutions, problems increasingly feel more solvable. Thus people are more likely to take action to solve them.
Taking Action: Breaking down a problem into a series of achievable steps further helps people to actively address their problems. And rather than identifying a goal that feels overwhelming, in problem-solving therapy people learn to only plan what they are confident they can accomplish. Slowly and surely, by chipping away at large tasks, people solve their problems.
There is research that shows problem-solving therapy is helpful as a standalone treatment. However, it is most effective when incorporated into a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment plan.
For more information about what CBT is, what it is used to treat, and the methods we use, explore our site using the navigation menu at the top of this page, or visit our cognitive behavioral therapy exercises pages.