There are many occasions when either ourselves, a friend, a sister or brother, a parent or our partner have needed someone to talk to about certain problems or issues in their life. But how many times has it felt like solutions are being thrown at your or that you need to give a solution to help the other person with their issue? Many people tend to feel the need to find a solution rather than focus on the problem. This can be for different reasons, whether out of love and care, they want to fix the issue for you, or they simply apply themselves to the same situation and discuss what they would do to fix the issue. It can also be a sense of helplessness that they can’t directly help, and therefore want to provide ‘answers’.
However, there is a time and place for everything – sometimes we are needing that solution or idea to help us resolve the issue. But there are also times when we do not require an answer or already know the answer and rather want to express what we feel. How many times have you felt unheard when given a solution-focused response rather than a problem-focused one? We will be looking at the differences and why each method is helpful and unhelpful in certain situations.
We are all humans, we are always preparing and thinking about the next move to ensure our safety and that there is no harm or possible danger. Our minds are constantly thinking of solutions to ensure we have the best foot going forward or to not repeat previous mistakes. This can be helpful in situations in which we need to plan for the future, the next decision we have to make in certain circumstances, e.g. whether a certain job offer is the right next move or how we go about finding the next ‘right’ partner for ourselves.
The solution-focused approach focuses not on the issues themselves, but rather helps progress forward to overcome the issue. It also explores moments when the issue is not an issue, the strengths that can be used to overcome the issue and what current behaviours or factors are helpful. For example, if we were struggling with stress, a solution-focused approach would focus on what could we do to improve the current circumstance? when are we not feeling stressed? What are our strengths to help overcome the stress? And to change those factors that are not helping the issue to those that can progress us towards our goal.
The solution-focused approach can provide possible methods of solving our issue, and encourages us to look forward and formulate how we can move forward. This may be the reason why we want to provide solutions to our loved one’s issues as we are focused on the positives, strengths or outcomes that better the current situation. However, this may not always be helpful in the eyes of the person coming to us for support.
Problem focused approach
The problem-focused approach is fixated on why the issue emerged in the first place. it targets the cause of the stress or issue in order to reduce or minimise the problem rather than finding ways to “fix it”. An example may be if we were to be feeling anxious about an upcoming social gathering. The problem-focused approach would include identifying what about the situation is causing the anxiety to rise, is it having to introduce ourselves? Is it having to find people we get along with? Is that we don’t know many of the people attending? There are many possibilities as to what the reason could be, however, a problem-focused approach acknowledges those reasons and work towards reducing the stress of the situation. In the same example, if we problem solve and identify that we don’t know many people attending, maybe it is finding out who is attending that we know, is it reflecting back on times that we have been able to manage in new settings, to use as evidence and increase confidence in our ability to cope in such setting.
The benefits of the problem-focused approach are that it acknowledges and focuses on how, why, what and when the issue came to be. It encourages us to problem solve and become investigators in what causes certain stressors and anxieties in us. Sometimes loved ones are requiring us to be present with them in this moment of stress or discomfort, not to solve, but to understand and have someone share that understanding with them.
Most of the time, when we go to another person to discuss an issue or stressor, we are not wanting solutions or to focus on the problem – it may just be to be present whilst there discuss their experience. It is important that whilst we have methods of solving issues, we also tune into what the person is requiring rather than what you think they are needing. We only want to help each other, but sometimes that help might just be listening and acknowledging.