Problem-Solving Therapy

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a therapeutic approach aimed at helping individuals develop effective problem-solving skills to manage and cope with life's challenges and emotional distress.

Developed in the 1970s by psychologists Thomas D’Zurilla and Marvin Goldfried, PST is based on the belief that improving one’s problem-solving abilities can lead to better mental health and overall well-being. 

At its core, PST involves a structured and systematic process. Clients work with therapists to identify problems or stressors they are facing, break them down into manageable pieces, think of possible solutions, and then implement the most viable ones. 

Through this process, clients learn to approach problems through a more constructive mindset, leading to reduced feelings of helplessness and increased self-worth. 

What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?

What sets PST apart from other forms of therapy is its focus on practical skills. Unlike traditional talk therapies that delve into the past, PST emphasizes the here and now. It equips individuals with a toolbox of problem-solving techniques that they can use in various aspects of their lives.

PST is particularly useful for individuals dealing with specific, concrete issues such as relationship conflicts, work-related stress, or financial problems. It is a brief and goal-oriented therapy, often completed in a relatively short time. This makes it an efficient and affordable option for those seeking practical solutions to their problems. 

Problem-solving therapy is a structured and action-oriented approach to improving mental health by enhancing an individual’s problem-solving skills. It stands out for its pragmatic focus on current issues and practical solutions, setting it apart from more insight-oriented therapies. 

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What Does Problem-Solving Therapy Treat?

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a versatile therapeutic approach that can be applied to a range of mental health conditions and life challenges. Its primary goal is to equip individuals with effective problem-solving skills to manage and overcome difficulties. 

Here are several mental health conditions and challenges that PST can be used to treat:

  • Depression: PST helps individuals identify and address the problems contributing to their depressive symptoms. It focuses on problem-solving strategies to improve mood and reduce feelings of hopelessness. 
  • Anxiety Disorders: PST can be effective in treating various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. It helps individuals confront and cope with anxiety-provoking situations. 
  • Stress Management: PST is particularly useful for managing stress related to work, family, or other life events. It teaches stress reduction techniques and practical problem-solving skills to alleviate stressors. 
  • Relationship Issues: When couples or individuals face relationship conflicts, PST can help identify and address specific relationship problems, improving communication and conflict resolution skills. 
  • Substance Abuse: PST can be integrated into substance abuse treatment programs to address underlying issues and triggers, teaching individuals alternative ways to cope with stressors. 
  • Chronic Illness: For individuals dealing with chronic health conditions, PST can assist in problem-solving around managing symptoms, sticking with medication, and living a healthier lifestyle. 
  • Bereavement and Grief: PST can help individuals navigate the grieving process by addressing the challenges and emotional distress associated with loss.


The effectiveness of PST may vary depending on the condition and individual characteristics. It tends to work better for conditions with identifiable problems and stressors, such as depression and anxiety, as it provides practical tools for addressing these issues. 

However, PST may be less effective for severe and complex mental health conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Ultimately, the suitability of PST should be determined on a case-by-case basis, considering the specific needs and circumstances of the individual. 

How Does Problem-Solving Therapy Work?

Problem-solving therapy (PST) is a structured and goal-oriented therapeutic approach designed to equip individuals with effective problem-solving skills. 

Here’s an overview of how PST works and what the process typically entails: 

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How Long Does Problem-Solving Therapy Last?

The duration of PST can vary depending on the complexity of the problems and the individual’s progress. Typically, PST is a short-term therapy, often lasting from 6 to 12 sessions, but it can be adapted to meet the unique needs of each client. Sessions are usually scheduled weekly or bi-weekly. 

Problem-solving therapy is a structured and collaborative process that provides individuals with practical tskills to enhance their problem-solving abilities and improve their lives. 

Tips for Successful Problem Solving-Therapy

Successful problem-solving therapy can greatly benefit individuals seeking to address specific challenges or improve their mental well-being. If you’re considering or undergoing PST for the first time, here are some general tips to help you make the most of your experience: 


  • Open and Honest Communication: Be prepared to openly discuss your concerns, thoughts, and feelings with your therapist. Honesty is key to effective problem-solving. 
  • Set Clear Goals: Collaborate with your therapist to establish clear and realistic goals for therapy. Having a clear sense of what you want to achieve will help guide the process. 
  • Active Participation: Actively engage in the therapy process. This includes participating in problem analysis, generating solutions, and implementing action plans. Your therapist will guide you, but your active involvement is crucial. 
  • Patience and Persistence: Problem-solving may not yield immediate results. Be patient with yourself and the process, and be persistent in your efforts to work through challenges. 
  • Practice Between Sessions: Implement the strategies and solutions discussed in therapy between sessions. Practice is essential for skill development and problem resolution. 
  • Openness to Feedback: Be open to feedback and suggestions from your therapist. They are there to support your growth and provide guidance. 
  • Identify Obstacles: Recognize potential obstacles that may hinder your progress and discuss them with your therapist. Identifying and addressing barriers is part of the problem-solving process. 
  • Manage Expectations: Understand that problem-solving therapy is not a quick fix, and not all problems may have immediate solutions. It’s a gradual process of improvement. 
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What To Expect in Problem-Solving Therapy?

During PST, you can expect a structured and goal-oriented approach. Sessions typically involve discussing specific problems, breaking them down into manageable parts, brainstorming solutions, and evaluating those solutions. You’ll learn problem-solving techniques and strategies to apply in your daily life. 

The therapist will provide guidance and support throughout, helping you gain confidence in your problem-solving abilities. You’ll set actionable goals, work on action plans, and review progress regularly. How long PST takes depends on your needs and progress, but it’s often a relatively short-term approach. 

Remember that your therapist is there to facilitate your growth and provide a supportive environment for you to develop effective problem-solving skills. By actively participating and applying what you learn in PST, you can significantly improve your life. 

Problem-Solving Therapy at South Coast Behavioral Health

South Coast Behavioral Health recognizes the effectiveness of Problem Solving Therapy (PST) as a valuable component of its treatment approach. PST is utilized within the center’s comprehensive mental health services to assist individuals in overcoming various challenges and improving their overall well-being. 

Getting help from a professional therapist or treatment center like South Coast is essential for several reasons. Our trained therapists are experienced in applying PST in a structured and personalized manner. They possess the expertise to identify underlying issues, customize treatment plans, and guide individuals through the problem-solving process effectively. 

Moreover, receiving therapy in a treatment center provides a supportive and therapeutic environment where clients can openly discuss their concerns and receive expert guidance. This environment fosters trust, ensuring that clients feel heard and understood, which is crucial for successful therapy outcomes. 

Additionally, SCBH offers a multidisciplinary approach to mental health care. Clients benefit from access to a range of therapeutic modalities, including individual counselinggroup therapymedication management, and crisis intervention, as needed. This comprehensive approach allows for a more holistic and tailored treatment experience, addressing not only immediate issues but also underlying factors contributing to mental health challenges. 

Seeking problem-solving therapy from a professional therapist or treatment center like South Coast Behavioral Health ensures that you receive the help you need to achieving lasting improvements in mental health and well-being.

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Problem-Solving Therapy in Orange County, CA

If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, PST may be an effective treatment option for you. It is important to note that PST requires active participation in order for it to be successful. If you think PST might be right for you, please reach out to us today!

We provide PST for men within our medical detox and residential treatment centers in Irvine, CA. 

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We offer PST for women at our medical detox and residential treatment centers in Huntington Beach, CA. 

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We provide PST for men within our residential inpatient facility in Costa Mesa, CA. 

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We provide PST during our PHP and IOP programs in Newport Beach, CA. 

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