If an individual expresses that they:
feel overwhelmed by a number of problems in their life
feel helpless, hopeless or disheartened that they cannot solve a problem(s)
feel like they lack control over a problem
It is important to note that problem-solving may not be helpful or appropriate for individuals who are in an acute state of distress or dysregulation, as these individuals will likely not be able to effectively engage with the activity. In these circumstances, stress-reduction or relaxation techniques such as slow breathing and grounding exercises may be more beneficial.
Problem-solving is one of the most common and pragmatic skills used in CBT. It is an intervention that has been described as well suited to general practice settings and can be undertaken in 15 – 30 minute consultations. Problem-solving consists of five steps that practitioners and patients work through in a collaborative and systematic manner, including:
It is important to remember that your role as a practitioner is to help individuals to explore the pros and cons of all possible solutions, before creating their own action plan to work towards. Practitioners are encouraged to cultivate a sense of curiosity and collaboration when working through these steps, and be guided by the individual’s responses and ideas – as it is not the practitioner’s role to suggest or impose their ideas for possible solutions.
Assess whether an individual may benefit from problem-solving strategies?
Provide psychoeducation on problems that arise after disaster/trauma, and how problem-solving strategies may help?
Instruct individuals how to use the problem-solving worksheet attached at the bottom of this page?
Collaboratively implement problem-solving with use of the problem-solving worksheet attached at the bottom of this page?
In the aftermath of disaster, it is likely that individuals will be facing a number of personal, social or financial problems, so it is helpful to narrow down which problem to prioritise focus on first. You can do this by asking the questions, including:
Once a problem has been prioritized for focus, it is important to clearly define the problem in greater detail, breaking it down into smaller chunks. For some, it can be quite difficult to think clearly and carefully about what the problem involves. To help someone clearly define the problem they have chosen to address, you can ask them some of the following questions:
In the aftermath of disaster, it is not uncommon for people to take on problems that are not necessarily their responsibility to fix. If the problem is happening between an individual and someone else (e.g., fighting with a loved one/family member), then the individual may have a shared responsibility in addressing this problem. Rather, if the problem is mainly happening to someone else or between other people, it is important to the individual become aware that they cannot take primary responsibility for this problem.
Remind individuals that the idea is to prioritise one problem at a time, whilst acknowledging that it is easy to start thinking about other problems as well. Encourage individuals to keep focused on the identified problem, and remind them that they can use the problem solving technique for other problems at a later point.
Help the individual to clarify what they hope to see happen in regards to this problem, by asking:
It is important to ensure that the end goal or desire is as realistic and achievable as possible. If you think the goal might be too complex or too big, you may find it helpful to work with the individual to further break the goal or desire down further in short- and long-term goals.
After a realistic and achievable goal has been identified, invite the individual to write down and brainstorm as many ideas, strategies that they can think of that might help solve the problem. When doing this, try to:
As the individual comes up with solutions, you may like to further collaborate with them by suggesting some of these additional solutions:
Invite the individual to go down the list of possible solutions generated, and:
Explain to the individual that even the best solution to a problem might not work unless you break it down into a series of practical steps or realistic goals – an action plan. Encourage the individual to identify practical and specific ways to activate the plan. Goals and plans should include include:
Identify any potential hurdles or barriers, and discuss how to overcome them.
When the individual returns for another session or consultation, it is important to review their experiences in activating steps outlined in the action plan. Discussion should include:
Congratulate the individual for any efforts made to take action, explore which steps seemed to be most helpful and discuss how the individual would do things differently if they had the chance.
If you are not likely to see the individual for another session or consultation, encourage the individual to ask themselves the above questions on their review date.