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Problem Solving Therapy

Problem Solving Therapy
What is Problem Solving Therapy?

Problem solving therapy is a type of psychotherapy. Problems encountered by patients are looked into with an aim to come up with solutions.

Suitable for

Patients with depression and anxiety, as well as those suffer from mood problems due to relationship difficulties or physical illnesses.

How it works

This therapy is simpler than other types of psychotherapy. It focuses on finding the solutions to concrete problem in life so that depression or anxiety generated by these problems could be alleviated. It is common that a patient will have a number of problems at the same time, but it is better to handle them one at a time. It is good to start with the simplest problem so that the patient can grasp the technique before moving on to other more complicated ones. It is important that patients learn the skills to solve problems, so in the future they could continue to use these problem solving skills on their own.


What are the steps of problem solving therapy?
  1. Clarify and define the problem
  2. Establish the objectives and achievement goals
  3. For each problem, work out solution alternatives
  4. Discuss Pros and Cons of solutions and create decision guidelines
  5. Choose the preferred solutions
  6. Work on ways to actually implement the solutions
  7. Evaluate the outcome
What is the role of the therapist?

The interaction and relationship between the patient and the therapist are important in problem solving therapy. They will meet regularly for about an hour each time. In the beginning of the therapy, the patient will have to describe their problems. It is common that they will describe a lot about their emotions involved and their past experiences.

  • Let patient know that the main focus of this therapy is not about the release of emotions, but finding a solution to the problem.
  • Help patient understand how negative emotions could affect their problem solving, and analyse step by step how they could find a better solution.
  • Play an active role to encourage and guide the patient in defining the problem and finding the solution.
  • Role plays and rehearsals may be involved so that the patient can practice how they apply the solution.

Know more – The ultimate goal of problem solving therapy is not about finding a particular solution, but for the patient to develop problem-solving skills


What are some skills we may learn from problem solving therapy?

For example, a key skill is to clarify the problem before looking for a solution:

  1. Decide whether the problem is solvable

    It is important to decide whether the problem on hand can really be solved. We need to understand that not everything is under our control. For example, a patient is unhappy because her daughter married a man she does not like. However, this is a fact and cannot be changed easily. What she can do is to think about how to get along with this son-in-law.

  2. Understand the underlying problems

    Sometimes, the problem we have is actually an uncomfortable feeling rather than an actual problem. When undergoing problem solving therapy, we have to turn our emotions into a concrete problem which can actually be solved.

    For example, a patient feels sorry for his wife who makes him sad. Upon further clarification, it is found that he is dissatisfied that his wife does not take good care of herself and he feels guilty for his dissatisfaction towards his wife. On further questioning, his wife always asks him to pick her from work but she is always late. This has disrupted his schedule. The solution to the problem in this example would be to arrange more time to pick up his wife or ask his wife to notify him earlier if she has to get off work late, so that he can make better arrangements.



Reference source(s): Website of the Institute of Mental Health Castle Peak Hospital