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Problem Solving Techniques

Problems can either be solved or coped with – depending on the circumstances you are in and the nature of the problems you are dealing with. If problems can be solved, the best way to deal with them is to solve them to get them out of the way so that they will not continue to increase stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. However, if problems cannot be solved, use self-soothing skills to decrease the stress you are under and use coping skills, such as pleasurable activities to improve the way the unsolvable problems affect you. For the problems that can be solved you may benefit from some of the problem-solving strategies outlined below:

Most people deal with problem-solving challenges daily, and often the key to solving problems successfully is to have a strategy or plan on how to approach them. Breaking large problems down into smaller segments may be helpful, as this makes problems more manageable and less overwhelming and more likely to be solved overall. For example, when you have a work deadline for certain projects you may ask yourself the question “I have tasks that need to be done by the end of the week.  How am I going to get them all done on time?” and some of the answers may include to make a list of the tasks that need to be done and to assign priorities to each one of them, so that the most important ones may be dealt with first. After considering several possible strategies, one strategy is likely chosen and implemented.  If it proves to be an ineffective strategy, a different one is can be tried out.  People who can define problems, consider options, make choices, and implement a plan have all the basic skills required for effective problem solving.  Sometimes following a step-by-step procedure for defining problems, generating solutions, and implementing solutions can make the process of problem-solving seem less overwhelming and more easily accomplished.

Step-by-step procedures for problem-solving:

1. Problem Identification and Definition:

  • State the problem as clearly as possible (e.g., I don’t have enough money to pay the bills).
  • Be specific about the behavior, situation, timing, and circumstances that make it a problem (e.g., I need to pay the phone and gas bills, and I don’t have enough money to cover both this month).

2. Generate Possible Solutions:

  • List all the possible solutions; don’t worry about the quality of the solutions at this stage.
  • Try to list at least 15 solutions, be creative and forget about the quality of the solution. If you allow yourself to be creative you may come up with some solutions that you would not otherwise have thought about.

3. Evaluate alternatives:

  • The next step is to go through and eliminate less desirable or unreasonable solutions.
  • Order the remaining solutions in order of preference.
  • Evaluate the remaining solutions in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

4. Decide on a Solution:

  • Specify who will take action.
  • Specify how the solution will be implemented.
  • Specify when the solution will be implemented (e.g., tomorrow morning:  phone the gas company and negotiate to pay the gas bill next month).

5. Implement the Solution:

  • Implement the solution as planned.

6. Evaluate the Outcome:

  • Evaluate how effective the solution was.
  • Decide whether the existing plan needs to be revised, or whether a new plan is needed to better address the problem.
  • If you are not pleased with the outcome, return to step 2 to select a new solution or revise the existing solution, and repeat the remaining steps.

Some problems are small or are easily solved.  Some problems are more complicated and can seem overwhelming.  One way of tackling problems is to use a specific and systematic problem-solving procedure.  If you have tried to solve certain problems without much success, try these steps out and see if they help.  Learning to solve problems effectively will help you to minimize the level of stress in your life and improve your overall sense of well-being.  Try it out and see!  Remember, you can always talk to your doctor or mental health practitioner and ask for help.