Psychotherapy What Is Problem-Solving Therapy? By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 26, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Definition Techniques Uses Benefits Effectiveness Things to Consider How to Get Started What Is Problem-Solving Therapy? Problem-solving therapy is a form of therapy that provides patients with tools to identify and solve problems that arise from life stressors, both big and small. Its aim is to improve your overall quality of life and reduce the negative impact of psychological and physical illness. Problem-solving therapy can be used to treat depression, among other conditions. It can be administered by a doctor or mental health professional and may be combined with other treatment approaches. Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process Techniques Problem-solving therapy is based on a model that takes into account the importance of real-life problem-solving. In other words, the key to managing the impact of stressful life events is to know how to address issues as they arise. Problem-solving therapy is very practical in its approach and is only concerned with the present, rather than delving into your past. This form of therapy can take place one-on-one or in a group format and may be offered in person or online via telehealth. Sessions can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours long. There are two major components that make up the problem-solving therapy framework: Applying a positive problem-solving orientation to your life Using problem-solving skills A positive problem-solving orientation means viewing things in an optimistic light, embracing self-efficacy, and accepting the idea that problems are a normal part of life. Problem-solving skills are behaviors that you can rely on to help you navigate conflict, even during times of stress. This includes skills like: Knowing how to identify a problemDefining the problem in a helpful wayTrying to understand the problem more deeplySetting goals related to the problemGenerating alternative, creative solutions to the problemChoosing the best course of actionImplementing the choice you have madeEvaluating the outcome to determine next steps Problem-solving therapy is all about training you to become adaptive in your life so that you will start to see problems as challenges to be solved instead of insurmountable obstacles. It also means that you will recognize the action that is required to engage in effective problem-solving techniques. One problem-solving technique, called planful problem-solving, involves following a series of steps to fix issues in a healthy, constructive way: Problem definition and formulation: This step involves identifying the real-life problem that needs to be solved and formulating it in a way that allows you to generate potential solutions. Generation of alternative solutions: This stage involves coming up with various potential solutions to the problem at hand. The goal in this step is to brainstorm options to creatively address the life stressor in ways that you may not have previously considered. Decision-making strategies: This stage involves discussing different strategies for making decisions as well as identifying obstacles that may get in the way of solving the problem at hand. Solution implementation and verification: This stage involves implementing a chosen solution and then verifying whether it was effective in addressing the problem. Other techniques your therapist may go over include: Problem-solving multitasking, which helps you learn to think clearly and solve problems effectively even during times of stress Stop, slow down, think, and act (SSTA), which is meant to encourage you to become more emotionally mindful when faced with conflict Healthy thinking and imagery, which teaches you how to embrace more positive self-talk while problem-solving What Problem-Solving Therapy Can Help With Problem-solving therapy addresses issues related to life stress and is focused on helping you find solutions to concrete issues. This approach can be applied to problems associated with a variety of psychological and physiological symptoms. Problem-solving therapy may help address mental health issues, like: Anxiety Chronic stress due to accumulating minor issues Complications associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI) Depression Emotional distress Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Problems associated with a chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes Self-harm and feelings of hopelessness Substance use Suicidal ideation This form of therapy is also helpful for dealing with specific life problems, such as: Death of a loved one Dissatisfaction at work Divorce Everyday life stressors Family problems Financial difficulties Job loss Relationship conflicts Your doctor or mental healthcare professional will be able to advise whether problem-solving therapy could be helpful for your particular issue. In general, if you are struggling with specific, concrete problems that you are having trouble finding solutions for, problem-solving therapy could be helpful for you. Visiting a Counselor vs. Psychotherapist Benefits of Problem-Solving Therapy The skills learned in problem-solving therapy can be helpful for managing all areas of your life. These can include: Being able to identify which stressors trigger your negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger) Confidence that you can handle problems that you face Having a systematic approach on how to deal with life's problems Having a toolbox of strategies to solve the problems you face Increased confidence to find creative solutions Knowing how to identify which barriers will impede your progress Knowing how to manage emotions when they arise Reduced avoidance and increased action-taking The ability to accept life problems that can't be solved The ability to make effective decisions The development of patience (realizing that not all problems have a "quick fix") Effectiveness This form of therapy was initially developed to help people combat stress through effective problem-solving, and it was later adapted to specifically address clinical depression. Today, much of the research on problem-solving therapy deals with its effectiveness in treating depression. Problem-solving therapy has been shown to help depression in: Older adults Caregivers People coping with serious illnesses like breast cancer Problem-solving therapy also appears to be effective as a brief treatment for depression, offering benefits in as little as six to eight sessions with a therapist or another healthcare professional. This may make it a good option for someone who is unable to commit to a lengthier treatment for depression. Things to Consider Problem-solving therapy is not a good fit for everyone. It may not be effective at addressing issues that don't have clear solutions, like seeking meaning or purpose in life. Problem-solving therapy is also intended to treat specific problems, not general habits or thought patterns. In general, it's also important to remember that problem-solving therapy is not a primary treatment for mental disorders. If you are living with the symptoms of a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you may need additional treatment with evidence-based approaches for your particular concern. Problem-solving therapy is best aimed at someone who has a mental or physical issue that is being treated separately, but who also has life issues that go along with that problem that has yet to be addressed. For example, it could help if you can't clean your house or pay your bills because of your depression, or if a cancer diagnosis is interfering with your quality of life. How to Get Started Your doctor may be able to recommend therapists in your area who utilize this approach, or they may offer it themselves as part of their practice. You can also search for a problem-solving therapist with help from the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Society of Clinical Psychology. If receiving problem-solving therapy from a doctor or mental healthcare professional is not an option for you, you could also consider implementing it as a self-help strategy using a workbook designed to help you learn problem-solving skills on your own. During your first session, your therapist may spend some time explaining their process and approach. They may ask you to identify the problem you’re currently facing, and they’ll likely discuss your goals for therapy. Problem-solving therapy may be a short-term intervention that's focused on solving a specific issue in your life. If you need further help with something more pervasive, it can also become a longer-term treatment option. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Pierce D. Problem solving therapy - Use and effectiveness in general practice. Aust Fam Physician. 2012;41(9):676-679. Cuijpers P, Wit L de, Kleiboer A, Karyotaki E, Ebert DD. Problem-solving therapy for adult depression: An updated meta-analysis. Eur Psychiatry. 2018;48(1):27-37. doi:10.1016/j.eurpsy.2017.11.006 Nezu AM, Nezu CM, D'Zurilla TJ. Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual. New York; 2013. doi:10.1891/9780826109415.0001 Hatcher S, Sharon C, Parag V, Collins N. Problem-solving therapy for people who present to hospital with self-harm: Zelen randomised controlled trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2011;199(4):310-316. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.090126 Sorsdahl K, Stein DJ, Corrigall J, et al. The efficacy of a blended motivational interviewing and problem solving therapy intervention to reduce substance use among patients presenting for emergency services in South Africa: A randomized controlled trial. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2015;10(1):46. doi:doi.org/10.1186/s13011-015-0042-1 Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016;31(5):526-535. doi:10.1002/gps.4358 Garand L, Rinaldo DE, Alberth MM, et al. Effects of problem solving therapy on mental health outcomes in family caregivers of persons with a new diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2014;22(8):771-781. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.07.007 Hopko DR, Armento MEA, Robertson SMC, et al. Brief behavioral activation and problem-solving therapy for depressed breast cancer patients: Randomized trial. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011;79(6):834-849. doi:10.1037/a0025450 Nieuwsma JA, Trivedi RB, McDuffie J, Kronish I, Benjamin D, Williams JW. Brief psychotherapy for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2012;43(2):129-151. doi:10.2190/PM.43.2.c By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.