What is problem solving therapy?

What is problem solving therapy?

Problem-solving therapy is a form of treatment that provides patients with tools to identify and solve problems large and small caused by life stressors. Its purpose is to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative effects of mental and physical illnesses.

Problem solving therapy can be used to treat depression, etc. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional, or it can be used in combination with other treatments.


Problem solving therapy is based on a model that considers the importance of problem solving in real life. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is knowing how to solve problems when they arise. The problem-solving approach is very practical, focusing only on the present instead of delving into your past.

This form of treatment can be done one-on-one or in small groups, and can be provided in person or online via telemedicine. Sessions can vary from 30 minutes to two hours.

The problem-solving treatment framework has two main components:

Positive problem-solving orientation means looking at things with optimism, embracing self-efficacy, and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors you can rely on to help you resolve conflicts, even in times of stress. This includes the following skills:

  • Know how to identify the problem
  • Define the problem in a useful way
  • Try to understand the problem more deeply
  • Set goals related to the problem
  • Generate alternative, creative solutions to problems
  • Choose the best course of action
  • Implement the choices you make
  • Evaluate the results to determine the next step

Problem solving therapy is to train you to adapt to life so that you will start to see the problem as a challenge to be solved, rather than an insurmountable obstacle. It also means that you will recognize the actions required to adopt effective problem-solving techniques.

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A problem-solving technique called planned problem-solving involves following a series of steps to solve the problem in a healthy and constructive way:

  • Problem definition and formulation: This step involves identifying real-world problems that need to be solved and formulating them in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions.
  • Generation of alternative solutions: This stage involves proposing various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal of this step is to brainstorm and creatively address life stressors in ways you may not have considered before.
  • Decision-making strategies: This stage involves discussing different decision-making strategies and identifying obstacles that may hinder solving the problem at hand.
  • Solution implementation and verification: This stage involves implementing the selected solution and then verifying whether it can effectively solve the problem.

Other techniques your therapist may use include:

  • Multitasking to solve problems can help you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even in stressful times
  • Stop, slow down, think and act (SSTA), designed to encourage you to pay more attention to emotions when facing conflict
  • Healthy thinking and image, teach you how to accept more active self-talk while solving problems

What problem solving therapy can help

Problem solving therapy addresses problems related to life stress, focusing on helping you find solutions to specific problems. This method can be applied to problems related to various psychological and physical symptoms.

Problem solving therapies may help solve mental health problems, such as:

This form of treatment also helps to deal with specific life problems, such as:

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Your doctor or mental health professional will be able to suggest whether the problem-solving treatment is helpful for your particular problem. Generally speaking, if you are struggling with a specific specific problem that is difficult to find a solution, then problem-solving therapy may help you.

Benefits of problem solving therapy

The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can help manage all aspects of your life. These can include:

  • Be able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (for example, sadness, anger)
  • I believe you can deal with the problems you are facing
  • A systematic way to deal with problems in life
  • Have a toolbox of strategies to solve the problems you face
  • Increase confidence in finding creative solutions
  • Know how to determine which obstacles will hinder your progress
  • Know how to manage emotions when they arise
  • Reduce avoidance and increase action
  • The ability to accept unsolvable life problems
  • The ability to make effective decisions
  • Patient development (realizing that not all problems have “quick solutions”)


This form of treatment was originally designed to help people fight stress by effectively solving problems, and later was specifically used to solve clinical depression. Today, a lot of research on problem-solving therapy involves its effectiveness in treating depression.

Problem solving therapy has been shown to help depression:

  • The elderly
  • Caregiver
  • People dealing with serious diseases such as breast cancer

Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, as it only requires 6 to 8 sessions with a therapist or other healthcare professional to provide benefits. This may be a good choice for people who cannot receive long-term treatment for depression.

Things to consider

Problem solving therapy is not for everyone. It may not be able to effectively solve problems for which there is no clear solution, such as seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem solving therapy also aims to treat specific problems, not general habits or thinking patterns.

In general, it is also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not the main treatment for mental disorders. If you have symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you may need to use evidence-based methods for additional treatment for your specific problem.

Problem-solving therapy is best for those who have mental or physical problems that require separate treatment, but also have life problems that accompany unresolved problems.

For example, if you are unable to clean your room or pay bills due to depression, or if a cancer diagnosis interferes with your quality of life, it may be helpful.

How to start

Your doctor may recommend this method to a therapist in your area, or they may provide this method themselves as part of their practice. You can also find a problem-solving therapist with the help of the American Psychological Association (APA) Clinical Psychology Association.

If you are not suitable for problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental health professional, you can also consider using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills as a self-help strategy.

During your first meeting, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and methods. They may ask you to determine the problem you are currently facing and may discuss your treatment goals.

Problem solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that focuses on solving a specific problem in your life. If you need more general help, it can also be a long-term treatment option.