Problem-solving therapy

Our rating
2 smilies: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.

What is it?

Problem solving therapy (PST) involves learning about and using problem solving skills. These skills can be applied to help resolve issues which may be causing stress or worry. Types of problems which may be resolved with problem solving skills include relationship difficulties, problems at work, or worry over finances, among others. Patients can also use the skills they learn to overcome future problems.

How does it work?

People who have depression may not be skilled at solving personal and social problems. Learning how to effectively resolve problems increases peoples coping skills and can help improve wellbeing.

PST works in stages. Firstly, the patient will identify and discuss their problems with their therapist. They will identify what goals and outcomes they would like to achieve. Next, the patient and therapist work together to find an effective solution to their problem/s, and then the patient puts this in to action. The last stage in PST involves assessing how effective the solution was in solving the problem.

A session of PST usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes, and 6 to 8 sessions are usually required.

Is it effective?

There have been a number of studies which have looked at PST for the treatment of depression. In general, PST has been found to be effective at reducing depression symptoms. Some studies have found that PST is as effective as other treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressant medication. However, other studies have found that PST more effective for people with self-reported depression symptoms, compared to people with clinically diagnosed depression. More research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of PST for people with more severe depression.

Are there any disadvantages?

PST often involves a number of sessions with a psychologist, GP or other therapist. These sessions can be costly, but may be covered by Medicare in Australia (see below).

Where do you get it?

PST may be available from GPs, psychologists and other therapists who are specially trained to provide this therapy. In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme. You can ask your GP about problem solving therapy and where you can access it.


PST appears to be a helpful treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Pierce, D. Problem solving therapy: Use and effectiveness in general practice. Australian Family Physician. 2012; 41(9): 676-679.
  • Cuijpers P, van Straten A, Warmerdam L. Problem solving therapies for depression: A meta-analysis. European Psychiatry. 2007; 22: 9-15.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016