Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Solving Problems the Cognitive-Behavioral Way
Problem solving is another part of behavioral therapy.
Posted February 2, 2022 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- Problem-solving is one technique used on the behavioral side of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- The problem-solving technique is an iterative, five-step process that requires one to identify the problem and test different solutions.
- The technique differs from ad-hoc problem-solving in its suspension of judgment and evaluation of each solution.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, cognitive behavioral therapy is more than challenging negative, automatic thoughts. There is a whole behavioral piece of this therapy that focuses on what people do and how to change their actions to support their mental health. In this post, I’ll talk about the problem-solving technique from cognitive behavioral therapy and what makes it unique.
The problem-solving technique
While there are many different variations of this technique, I am going to describe the version I typically use, and which includes the main components of the technique:
The first step is to clearly define the problem. Sometimes, this includes answering a series of questions to make sure the problem is described in detail. Sometimes, the client is able to define the problem pretty clearly on their own. Sometimes, a discussion is needed to clearly outline the problem.
The next step is generating solutions without judgment. The "without judgment" part is crucial: Often when people are solving problems on their own, they will reject each potential solution as soon as they or someone else suggests it. This can lead to feeling helpless and also discarding solutions that would work.
The third step is evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each solution. This is the step where judgment comes back.
Fourth, the client picks the most feasible solution that is most likely to work and they try it out.
The fifth step is evaluating whether the chosen solution worked, and if not, going back to step two or three to find another option. For step five, enough time has to pass for the solution to have made a difference.
This process is iterative, meaning the client and therapist always go back to the beginning to make sure the problem is resolved and if not, identify what needs to change.
Advantages of the problem-solving technique
The problem-solving technique might differ from ad hoc problem-solving in several ways. The most obvious is the suspension of judgment when coming up with solutions. We sometimes need to withhold judgment and see the solution (or problem) from a different perspective. Deliberately deciding not to judge solutions until later can help trigger that mindset change.
Another difference is the explicit evaluation of whether the solution worked. When people usually try to solve problems, they don’t go back and check whether the solution worked. It’s only if something goes very wrong that they try again. The problem-solving technique specifically includes evaluating the solution.
Lastly, the problem-solving technique starts with a specific definition of the problem instead of just jumping to solutions. To figure out where you are going, you have to know where you are.
One benefit of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach is the behavioral side. The behavioral part of therapy is a wide umbrella that includes problem-solving techniques among other techniques. Accessing multiple techniques means one is more likely to address the client’s main concern.