Archive for Problem Solving

This video illustrates the importance of actively pursing a solution, rather than waiting for others (or for the world) to offer you a solution to your problems.

Practical Problems Require Problem Solving

When faced with practical problems, it is key to proactively engage in the problem solving process.   This is especially difficult for people who grew up in chaotic and abusive families, where efforts at problem solving were often unsuccessful.  When repeated attempts fail, a person can learn what is called Learned Helplessness.  In other words, they learn that no matter what they try, nothing will help.  They give up, stop trying to find solutions, and just absorb whatever the world throws at them.

These individuals often carry this core belief, that they are helpless to solve their problems, into other circumstances, later in life.  They let themselves be carried by various forces, feeling helpless to set their own course.  Realizing that problem solving could be helpful is the first step for such individuals to get control over their own lives.  (Click for more about Problem Solving Therapy.)

A Young Man with Rare Determination

Alex Chivescu has been through a lot.  His parents divorced when he was two, his father was not in his life, and then his mother suffered a head injury, causing her to become abusive and neglectful.  Eventually his mother lost custody of him.  Not only did he avoid the trap of Learned Helplessness, but he channeled all his energies into doing the best he could do at school, using it as an escape and excelling there.  But when he was moved away from his school district, he had to go a step further…

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Problem Solving Therapy

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Once again I got hop on the train to downtown Chicago, for a workshop on psychotherapy with older adults.  This was the fifth in a series of six workshops I am attending on geropsychology.  This time, we discussed research findings about various approaches to psychotherapy, and how effective they are with seniors.  I would like to take a moment to tell you about just one of these approaches, called problem solving therapy.

Problem Solving Therapy

Erin Emery PhD, presenting at IPA Geropsychology Workshop on 5/8/09

Erin Emery PhD, Director of Geriatric & Rehabilitation Psychology at Rush University Medical Center, presenting at IPA Geropsychology Workshop on 5/8/09

We all make an effort to solve the problems we encounter in our lives.  But some people are more successful than others.  Psychologists studying problem solving have found that there are two factors affecting how likely you are to be a successful problem solver.

The first factor that determines success is your “problem orientation.”  In other words: whether or not you believe that you can succeed, what attitude you have, and how you feel about problem solving. Having a positive attitude about problem solving helps you to be an effective problem solver.  However, if you have struggled with problem solving in the past, you might feel pretty pessimistic about your abilities.  If this is the case, then problem solving with the help of a Chicago therapist can help you become more confident.

The second factor that determines success is your problem solving style.  There are three general styles:

  • Rational Problem Solving Style:  thought out, systematic, planful, and constructive (recommended)
  • Impulsive/Careless Style:  impulsive, hurried, and careless attempts at problem resolution (not recommended)
  • Avoidant Style:  procrastination, passivity, and over-dependence on others to solve your problems (not recommended)

Problem Solving Steps

In therapy, I would start by exploring your problem orientation (how you feel about problem solving), and discussing how you got to feel that way, and how that may be affecting you now. We may also discuss how to change your feelings.

Then we would start identifying a variety of problems that may need your attention, and specifically define one that you want to focus on first.

Next, we would brainstorm solutions to this problem, and weigh their pros and cons to help you decide which solution might work best for you.  We would plan how to implement this solution by creating a SMART action plan.  SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timebound

Once you had implemented this plan, we would review how well it worked, and make adjustments as necessary.  Usually you would need to implement an action plan several times, and probably making adjustments each time, until you feel you have solved the problem.

Problem solving therapy typically lasts 8 to 16 sessions, unless of course you decide to address more than one significant problem.  This therapy has been shown to be effective with the general population as well as with older adults.

If you are interested in problem solving therapy in the Tinley Park area, or if you are concerned about the emotional health of a senior, please feel free to call me at 708-429-6999.

Anda Jines offers mental health counseling services in south Chicago, including Tinley Park (60477), Oak Forest, Orland Park, Mokena, and the surrounding area.

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