Life is full of crises, problems, and decisions, but many people do not have the appropriate skills to manage them. Much of what we think of as problematic behavior in a client can be viewed as the consequence of ineffective behavior and thinking. The individual is unable to resolve certain dilemmas in his or her life.
The unproductive attempts to do so have adverse effects such as anxiety and depression, not to mention the creation of additional problems such as confrontations and interpersonal conflict. For the professional the way to decode the client’s sometimes incomprehensible actions is to ask yourself what he or she is trying to “achieve”?
Often, what the client is trying to achieve is the narrowing of the discrepancy between their actual state of affairs and their desired state of affairs. The discrepancy is the problem, and the client’s solutions may be making things worse. Problem solving aims to reduce or eliminate this gap with some modification.
Most often as problem solvers we try to improve the actual state of affairs by finding an answer to a difficulty, a solution to a problem. Group problem solving is generally more fruitful than individual effort. In the problem solving approach “small” is not so much “beautiful” as “manageable”.
Problems are not manageable when they are conceived in large global terms. “Everything is going wrong.” “He will never change.” “There is no hope.” “I seem to have the world on my shoulders.” You break through this rhetoric by trying to establish and obtain relevant facts.
The more your clients can adopt a mental set that they can cope with a problem, the greater the likelihood that with your help they will come up with a solution to it. The feeling of being in control, not helpless is vital to the successful working through of difficult situations and is invaluable when you are involved in crisis interventions.
You “re-label” the problem for the clients, defining what they once thought of as impenetrable as “manageable” – given thought and calm application of a series of interpersonal problem solving strategies.
The Development of Problem SolvingSkills Interpersonal problem solving skills are learned from experiences beginning in the family and wherever the child interacts with others in situations that give rise to interpersonal difficulties. How well the developing child learns these skills is thought to reflect the extent to which the child’s caregivers manifest these abilities themselves.
Also, the degree to which parents communicate in ways that encourage the exercise of such thinking in the child. The emphasis is very much on how the person thinks. The goal in therapy or training is to generate as way of thinking, a way of using beliefs and values in making decisions at such times the problems arise.
Interpersonal Problem Solving Skills Problem sensitivity: Ability to be aware of problems that arise out of social situations. A sensitivity to the kinds of social situations out of which interpersonal difficulties may arise. Ability to examine relationships with others in the here and now.
Alternative solution training: Ability to generate a wide variety of potential solutions to the problem. Skill is to draw from a repertoire of ideas representing differing categories of solutions to a given problem.
Brainstorming: The creative art of generating the greatest number of ideas in the shortest possible time. Acceptance of every idea uncritically Aim for quantity not quality At this stage do not initiate any discussion List the ideas Set a time limit
Means-ends thinking: Ability to articulate the step by step means necessary to carry out the solution to a given interpersonal problem. Ability to recognize obstacles, the social sequences deriving from these solutions. Recognition that interpersonal problem solving takes time.
Consequential thinking: Being aware of the consequences of social acts as they affect self and others. Ability to generate alternative consequences to potential problem solutions before acting.
Causal thinking: Reflects the degree of appreciation of social and personal motivation. Involves the realization that how one felt and acted may have been influenced by and, in turn, may have influenced how others felt and acted.
A Problem Solving Model Defining the problem and its severity as precisely as possible. This entails: Assessing the current (actual) state of affairs Specifying the desired (ideal) state of affairs (goals)
Assessing the nature and magnitude of the problem. This entails: Listing the “forces” helping the client move toward the desired goals Listing the “forces” hindering the client from moving toward this goal. In “force-field analysis” as it is called, the problem is viewed as a balance between forces pushing in opposite directions.
Current State of Affairs(Sally’s truancy) Helping Forces (+) Hindering Forces (-) The family is behind Perhaps we put too her. much pressure on her. Sally wants to return She gets panicky to school. when she tries. The teacher is Her schoolmates tease sympathetic. her when she appears. There is a bully in her classroom.
Formulate alternative strategies. This entails: Moving the client from the actual to the desired state of affairs. Creative and divergent thinking Inventiveness Critical ability You have to change the helping forces and the hindering forces in order to alter the current state of affairs.
Now decide and implement the strategy. This entails: Selecting the alternatives that seem most likely to succeed. Specifying the “know-how” methods and other resources required to implement the chosen strategy.
Evaluate the outcome of applying the strategy. This entails: Defining what a successful outcome means – in terms of explicit criteria. Specifying what the effects or consequences of the strategy were.
Vignettes The first time you meet Elisa, age 38, she is in the hospital emergency room recovering from a severe panic attack. Tears are streaming down her face and she is having difficulty telling you her story. “They are trying to get rid of me. I’ve worked for them for twelve years. Now they make fun of my accent and accuse me of chasing customers away. They say it’s my fault the other woman in our unit quit. I don’t know what I will do. I can’t just get another job.” Elisa has been having problems at work for the last ten months. Her difficulties started when she returned from a leave of absence taken at the time of her son’s death. He had been killed in a gang related incident. “He was such a good boy. I don’t know why it happen. I’m so alone now. I don’t know what I will do if I lose my job.”
Vignette #2 According to Sheila and Bill W., their twelve year old daughter, Rachel, has always been difficult. A couple of years ago Rachel was seen by a psychologist who confirmed that she has a learning disability. He suggested that some of her problems in social relating may be related to the learning disorder. What finally drove them to seek your services was a recent call to Children’s Protective Services by Rachel’s teacher. Rachel told her teacher that Bill had become violent, breaking down her bedroom door and threatening to hit her. Sheila says “The social worker came to our house and did her ‘investigation’. Well, Bill was finally cleared but it just created such havoc. She’s driving us to this. She acts as though she hates us. It’s just tearing our family apart.”
Vignette #3 Melissa, age 13, is brought in by her mother, Emily. Over the weekend, Melissa took ten Tylenol. She said she took them because she wanted to die but then got very scared and told her mother who called the pediatrician. Melissa had an upset stomach but did not require treatment. Melissa’s parents separated a year ago after her father announced he had fallen in love with another woman and was going to live with her. “I never thought this could happen to us. He was the perfect Dad. I really thought he loved us. Then all of a sudden… It’s like someone came and stole his body and there’s this horrible person who’s pretending to be my father. It’s just not real.” Emily sits sullenly, shaking her head in agreement, with tears running down her face.