Changing Problem Behaviors with Problem Solving

The central goal of DBT is to change problem behaviors.  This is accomplished through focusing on changing the thoughts and emotions that precede problem behaviors, as well as by solving the problems you face that contribute to problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors.


Problem-solving strategies are the backbone of the treatment and are crucial in:

  • describing patterns over time,
  • analyzing particular problematic situations and
  • developing more effective coping strategies.

The goal is for you to begin using problem solving strategies to change behavior.  To start:

  • Explore your options:

Once you have identified a problem that is contributing to behavior you want to change, you have to determine how you are going to resolve it.  Don’t assume there is only one way to solve the problem.

For example, if better relationships will reduce your stress and anxiety, how will you improve them?  Will you focus on reaching out to certain important people, standing up for your beliefs, being assertive without being aggressive or listening and validating? At this point, you want to generate as many possible solutions or routes to solve your problem as possible.  Spend a little time brain storming different ways to proceed. Try to resist the urge to reject ideas.  Tell yourself that “quantity breeds quality.”

  • Anticipate Road Blocks

What do you really think will happen?  If you’re resolved to improve your relationships, do you expect to get derailed (i.e. I’ll lose my temper when faced with conflict or I’ll let others have their way instead of standing up for what I want)? Ask yourself how you’ll overcome those obstacles. Go public with your plan, surround yourself with supportive friends and family, break the solution into small accomplishments, build rewards into your progress and remind yourself of why you originally made the choice to change. If you find yourself coming up with reasons why every course of action is doomed to fail, look at why you’re throwing roadblocks in the way.

  • Get Specific and Get Started

Go over where, when and how you’ll do something differently in your day-to-day life.  Get detailed with your plans.  With the example of improving your relationships, you may decide to call one friend a week and really listen to what they have to say. You’ll need to make sure that you set time aside to call when they are available.  You might also need to manage your own worries so that you don’t disregard what they are saying.

Remember: people who solve their problems are not the people who face the least amount of failure.  They are the people who fail and get up and try again. If you get off track, don’t decide you’ve failed. Get recommitted and back into action.

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