Here is a general strategy for approaching any problem. You can use this technique whether you are dealing with your child’s substance use or any of its related issues, including communication, behavior, friend choices, school performance and emotional development.
These seven steps for problem solving are based on CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), among other behavioral approaches. This approach will take you beyond painful avoidance strategies and unreliable quick fixes to help you work through problems thoroughly and systematically. As you practice with these steps, try to apply — and give yourself credit for — what you already do well, and take the time you need to learn what you don’t already know.
1. Define the problem as narrowly as you can.
Often what people take as the problem is actually many smaller problems lumped together. No wonder they feel overwhelmed. When you describe a problem, be on the lookout for multiple problems embedded within your description, and tease them apart. The idea is to tackle one relatively discrete problem at a time. Solutions are more manageable with a series of smaller problems, and you will feel more accomplished and optimistic as you get through each one.
2. Brainstorm possible solutions.
In this step, your task is to write down as many solutions as you can think of, to foster a sense of possibility and give yourself some choice. Brainstorming is an open, free-for-all process of allowing every idea in the door as they come, to be sorted and refined later. Your inner critic will tend to dismiss ideas out of habit or fear, but some of these could be viable options if you gave them a chance. List without judging. Try not to rule out anything before you’ve written down every conceivable solution to your problem.
3. Eliminate unwanted suggestions.
Now that you have an exhaustive list of potential solutions, you can examine them more closely and cross out any that are unappealing. Eliminate options that you can’t imagine doing, that have too many downsides, or that seem unrealistic. If you end up crossing off every idea, return to step two and brainstorm again.
4. Select one potential solution or goal.
Pick one solution that seems doable to you, that you can see yourself trying this week. Hint: a doable goal is put in brief, simple and positive terms (something you will do, rather than something you won’t do or haven’t been doing), is specific and measurable, reasonable and achievable, controllable, and involves skills you already have or are learning. For a detailed discussion of goal setting, see chapter eight of our book, Beyond Addiction.
5. Identify possible obstacles.
Next, identify potential obstacles that could get in the way of completing your task. By anticipating problems, you can plan strategies for dealing with them. This can include planning for specific, predictable obstacles, as well as having a general awareness that unforeseen challenges may arise, which can lend you some emotional resilience in dealing with them.
6. Address each obstacle.
Design specific strategies to cope with each obstacle. Go further than simply saying,“I’m sure I can deal with it”; know exactly how you will get past the obstacle and move forward.
7. See how things go.
After you’ve carried out your plan, evaluate the process. Ask yourself, How did that go? Look at what went well and what was more challenging. Did your strategies for dealing with obstacles work well? Did obstacles come up that you hadn’t predicted? Is there anything you would do differently next time? This is how you figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you.
From the Parent’s 20-Minute Guide by CMC: Foundation for Change. Used with permission.
[Adapted from: Smith, Jane Ellen, and Robert J. Meyers. Motivating Substance Abusers to Enter Treatment: Working with Family Members. Guilford Press, 2004, pp. 187-190.]