Problem Solving Therapy

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a form of therapy that has been used for depression that helps clients learn how to solve problems using a step-wise approach. Research has been conducted on the effectiveness of telepractice delivered PST for concussion. Because many people, with and without cognitive impairments, struggle with problem-solving.This kind of therapy can benefit anyone who is having difficulty solving problems in their own life. In this article, we break down the steps in PST and summarize how clinicians can use PST in their own practices to help their clients become better problem solvers.

The Steps of Problem Solving Therapy

Assess

Assessing the problem at hand is the first step towards helping your client reach their goal. You should guide your client in understanding the nature of the obstacle at hand. Sometimes, clients may think they have a lot of challenges to overcome, when in reality they have a few situations that interact with one another. Understanding the nature of the problem allows your client to understand the true size of their problem. Adjusting their perceptions of the problem and explaining that the problems they are facing may be connected to other problems and helps your client understand facts clearer. 

Brainstorm

Brainstorming involves having your client develop solutions to the problem that they are experiencing. It creates a safe atmosphere that allows your client to get as creative as possible. It encourages them to come up with as many solutions as they can. Every idea your client makes should be encouraged to stay alive until the next phase. With certain patients, some negative feedback can shut them down altogether. However, by encouraging them to embrace all of their ideas will show them how not to discard any of them during the brainstorming process and to evaluate them objectively. Encourage your client to avoid judging their solution ideas, but rather look at them and ask themselves questions. Some helpful questions your client should ask include: “What solutions have I tried, how is it working, what might work better?” and “Where could I get more ideas about this? Who could I ask for some guidance?”. 

Consider & Choose

Assessing the problem at hand is the first step towards helping your client reach their goal. You should guide your client in understanding the nature of the obstacle at hand. Sometimes, clients

This step involves criticizing the ideas that the client has brainstormed using constructive criticism. You should help your client consider how much effort is needed for each solution idea, do they need help from others with these solution ideas, and what resources your client may need/what resources are available for your client’s proposed solutions. You must help your client start with the idea that is the most reasonable and do-able solution while also helping them develop a Plan B in case their first attempt is a learning experience. 

think they have a lot of challenges to overcome, when in reality they have a few situations that interact with one another. Understanding the nature of the problem allows your client to understand the true size of their problem. Adjusting their perceptions of the problem and explaining that the problems they are facing may be connected to other problems and helps your client understand facts clearer. 

Do

Doing involves carrying out the solution idea your client and you decide is the most reasonable and doable. This is also the hardest part but the most important as this is the directed action toward solving the problem. You should ensure that your client has a very specific plan as to how they will “do” the problem solving. Further guidance you can provide your client with includes encouraging them to follow their plan and not their mood. Encourage them to not worry about being perfect when it comes to carrying out their solution. Your client must learn that mistakes are not failures, but in fact new solutions to their problem and that they are always getting one step closer to their goal.

Evaluate

After your client carries out the “do” step, have your client reflect on how the “do” step worked. Reflecting on what worked and did not work. Every attempt got them closer to solving the problem and should be encouraged. Reflection also allows the patient to see what they can do differently if the problem is not resolved. If the issue is one that occurs in daily life will help your client develop self-awareness and self-monitoring skills. The goal would be to help your client verbally communicate their evaluation. Additionally, if you can help them visualize their evaluation they may be able to understand their progress better.

Flex (or Fight on!)

 Flexing is the process of readjusting your client’s problem solving solution that they tried and having them go back to brainstorming. By returning to the brainstorming process, your patient can choose another solution that they proposed and attempt a new way to reach their goal. If their solution worked, you would help your client practice this strategy in their daily life and try this solution to related problems. This is called generalization, which is part of the bridging component of therapy and connects the therapeutic intervention to daily life for successful real-world outcomes. 

Side note: This terminology is helpful when working with military populations. Military personnel have been trained to be very goal-oriented. By using this approach you may be able to help them understand, readjust, monitor, and continue their problem-solving strategy implementation in a way that is familiar to them. 

Conclusion 

Problem solving is a complex cognitive process that involves many steps. Clinicians working with healthy and clinical populations can help their clients become better problem solvers by breaking down the process. It is important to help your client start by picking a simple problem such as losing their keys. By helping them overcome small problems they will experience little victories and thus be willing to tackle larger problems. Helping your client break down a problem can help them to see that their problem is not as large as they once thought. Likewise, showing your client how to approach a problem in a stepwise manner helps them to become a better problem solver. These strategies can be adapted to other problems that your clients encounter in their daily lives. 

 

Interested in how to help your client to become a better problem solver? Check out the source video for this article from the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey. 

Dustin Luchmee
Dustin Luchmee

Dustin is HappyNeuron Pro's Product Specialist. With research experience in stroke, Dustin learned how a stroke can change someone's life. He also learned how different kinds of therapists can work together to help a person get better. He is passionate about neuro-rehabilitation and finding the active ingredients for effective therapy.

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