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.

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The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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, such as relationship difficulties, problems at work, or worry over finances. This type of therapy is usually done with the help of a therapist or GP.

How does it work?

People who have depression may experience personal or social problems in their lives which could contribute to their low mood. Learning how to effectively resolve problems increases coping skills and can help improve wellbeing.

PST works in stages. Firstly, the client will identify and discuss their problems with their therapist. They will identify what goals and outcomes they would like to achieve. Next, the client and therapist work together to find an effective solution to their problem, and then the client 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 most people will have 6 to 8 sessions.

Is it effective?

There have been several studies which have looked at PST for the treatment of depression. In general, PST seems 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 is 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 several 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

  • Cuijpers P, van Straten A, Warmerdam L. Problem solving therapies for depression: A meta-analysis. European Psychiatry. 2007; 22: 9-15.
  • Huibers MJ, Beurskens A, Bleijenberg G, van Schayck CP. Psychosocial interventions by general practitioners. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007(3).
  • Kirkham JG, Choi N, Seitz DP. Meta-analysis of problem solving therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder in older adults. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016; 31(5): 526-35.
  • Pierce, D. Problem solving therapy: Use and effectiveness in general practice. Australian Family Physician. 2012; 41(9): 676-679.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019