Problem Solving Therapy: Operation And Characteristics

This therapy proposed by D’Zurilla and Goldfried optimizes the way of solving problems.

Problem Solving Therapy

In many cases, problems turn out to be a source of stress that reduces our personal well-being. To solve them, Problem Solving Therapy was born in 1971 , the most accepted model of problem solving in psychotherapy, formulated by D’Zurilla and Goldfried.

This is a type of therapy aimed at the patient learning to identify his problem and create effective strategies to solve it, through learning a series of skills, while the therapist advises him on its implementation. We are going to see what phases the therapy proposes and what each one consists of.

Problem Solving Therapy: features

D’Zurilla and Goldfried’s therapy is born from the influences of previous models such as the social competence model, the cognitive-behavioral approach, the Transactional Model of stress and the interest in creativity.

According to the authors, the term “solution or problem solving” implies those cognitive or manifest processes that offer a variety of effective alternative responses to face a problem situation. These processes increase the probability of selecting the most effective among them.

Thus, it is a cognitive-affective-behavioral process from which the person tries to identify or discover an effective coping solution or response to a particular problem. This concept was approached by D’Zurilla and Goldfried in 1986/1993 and also by D’Zurilla and Nezu in 2007.

On the other hand, it should be mentioned that emotional responses can facilitate or inhibit the execution of problem solving, depending on some variables.

Problem solving skills

Problem Solving Therapy is made up of three different types of skills: general, specific, and basic. Let’s see them:

1. General

They are problem orientation skills, and are used in the first phase of therapy (problem orientation phase), as we will see later. These are general cognitions such as perceiving the problem, attributing causality to it, assessing it, and committing to it.

2. Specific

These are the “intermediate” skills that the patient uses (between general and basic), and they are put into practice in very specific situations.

3. Basic

They are the most specific skills in problem solving, and are used in the phases following the first, to define the problem, generate alternatives, make a decision, apply the solution and check its usefulness.

Stages of therapy

Problem Solving Therapy is divided into five stages, each one of which is made up of one or more of the three types of skills discussed. These stages are:

1. Orientation towards the problem

It is about accepting the problems that one has, and focuses on the importance of recognizing them and not running away, maintaining a positive attitude towards them. At this stage the motivational component is very important. The most important variables in this phase are four:

  • Perception of the problem (recognition and labeling).
  • Causal attribution of the problem (influences its assessment).
  • Assessment of the problem (personal control; meaning for social and personal well-being).
  • Time / effort commitment and personal control

These variables are in turn the general skills used in this phase, consisting of general problem-oriented cognitions.

2. Definition and formulation

In this phase of Problem Solving Therapy, the importance of defining the problem well is highlighted; According to the authors, if the problem is well defined, half of it is solved. The variables or steps of this stage are:

  • Collect relevant information about the problem (type or nature).
  • Setting a realistic goal.
  • Reevaluation of the importance of the problem.

Here the basic skills are used, which are the most specific in problem solving. Specifically, in this stage the skills of sensitivity towards problems and perspective taking are used, which make it possible to define and formulate the problem properly.

3. Generation of alternatives

At this stage, three principles derived from Guidford’s divergent production and Osborn’s brainstorming method are raised . Basic skills are also used at this stage.

The three principles that arise in this phase are:

3.1. Quantity principle

The more ideas that are proposed, the better, and also the more likely it is that any of them will be useful or effective.

3.2. Principle of postponement of the trial.

A person will generate better solutions if they don’t have to evaluate them right away.

3.3. Variety principle

The more varied the ideas, the better, and the more likely that some will be effective.

4. Decision making

Here the best or the best proposals or ideas are selected, based on anticipated consequences; then the results are evaluated and the execution of the proposed ideas or strategies is planned.

As in the previous phases, basic problem-solving skills are also used here; specifically three: alternative thinking (thinking about alternatives), means-end thinking (thinking about means to reach the objectives) and consequential thinking (thinking about the consequences of the solutions proposed).

5. Execution and verification

Finally, in the last phase of Problem Solving Therapy, the result and effectiveness of the chosen solution in the real problem situation is evaluated. This phase is made up of four components or sub-phases:

  • Execution: the solution is put into practice.
  • Self-observation : you observe your own behavior and its results.
  • Self-assessment: the result obtained is compared with the predicted result.
  • Self- reinforcement: the own behavior or execution is reinforced.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bas, F. (1992). Cognitive-behavioral therapies: a second critical review. Clinic and Health, COP Madrid, 3 (2).
  • Feixas, G; Miró, T. (1993). Approaches to psychotherapy. An introduction to psychological treatments. Ed. Paidós. Barcelona.
  • Bados, A. and García, E. (2014). Problem resolution. Faculty of Psychology, University of Barcelona, ​​1-34.

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