Problem Solving Technique

Using Problem Solving in NAMI
signature programs
An instructional module for people who have already
been trained to facilitate a NAMI support group or teach
the NAMI Family-to-Family program
What is Problem Solving and how
does it relate to NAMI programs?
There are many ways to approach solving problems.
The approach that has proven most effective for:
NAMI Connection Support Groups
 NAMI Family Support Groups
 NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program
is the Problem Solving Technique, a group process that
honors the way people solve problems while offering
them more options when they’re feeling discouraged.
A disclaimer about timing
Because NAMI Family-to-Family is a 12
session course, there is more time available
for the Problem Solving Technique; 45 -60
When the Problem Solving Technique is used
during a support group it is important to limit
the entire process to 20 minutes to allow other
group business to occur
The three steps that make up the
Problem Solving Technique
Step # 1: Define the problem
Step # 2: Solve the problem using “POW”
Step # 3: Set realistic expectations
The Problem Solving Technique
is used when someone:
Is stuck in the same problem week after week
Feels they have exhausted all their options and have
turned down the options provided by the group
Doesn’t recognize a problem “pile up” and needs help
setting priorities or breaking the problem into manageable
Specifics of a problem are not clear
enough to use group wisdom
The Problem Solving Technique is not helpful when dealing
with illness issues over which the individual or family member
with the problem have little or no control.
Example: “How can I make my relative take medications?”
If you get a problem like this explain the limitation, then
rephrase the issue.
Example: “What kind of strategies are useful in helping
someone explore their barriers to taking medication
This way you have something concrete to work on, and you
won’t get stuck trying to solve an impossible problem.
Tools needed for the Problem
Solving Technique
1) Flip chart
2) Black and red markers
Please note that although this
example of the Problem Solving
Technique focuses on a family
member’s problem, the process is
the same for individuals with mental
illness that wish to solve a problem
that is important to them
We now invite you to walk through
a lesson in using the Problem
Solving Technique
By the end of this lesson you should feel comfortable
using the process of Problem Solving during your NAMI
support groups and NAMI Family-to-Family classes.
Problem Solving Technique step #1:
Define the Problem
 Pick
the one most pressing problem,
right now
 Be specific
 Determine the real issue
Tasks to accomplish in Step # 1
Have the individual willing to share their problem
come to the front of the room
 Ask the individual to identify what he/she believes
the problem at hand to be
 Expect to hear a problem “pile up” rather than the
true problem
 Help the individual “untangle the pile up” by asking
questions about the stated problem and trying to
help them narrow it down
 Write down each layer of the problem identified to
create a list that the individual can refer to later
One of the best ways to learn is to
see a demonstra tion
You will now see an example of the Problem
Solving Technique in action as psychologist Dr.
Joyce Burland, creator of the NAMI Family-toFamily program, follows the steps with Norma
Bangs a State Trainer for NAMI Family-toFamily and National Trainer for NAMI De
Familia a Familia
Tasks to accomplish in Step # 1
Ask the person to pick the single most pressing problem
on the list. They may combine facts, but the focus must
be on only one problem.
You are not in the driver’s seat during this part
of the exercise; you are only the recorder.
Park your own personal opinions as well as
those of the audience when using this
Problem Solving Technique. Use the problem
chosen by the person that has the problem.
Tasks to accomplish in Step # 1
In collaboration with the person, write the problem as a
problem statement. The leader may offer suggestions,
but the statement must be owned by the person
In order to drill down the problem statement:
Ask the person with the problem to get as specific as
they can about the problem that they have chosen to
 Guide the group to ask for more specifics related to
the problem. It is important for them to focus on
details that help them see the problem more clearly
 Remember, the person with the problem is in charge,
the group is offering suggestions – you are the
facilitator in this part of the exercise
The process of drilling down
At this time Norma continues listing her concerns about
her daughter, Christine:
She has a difficult time expressing herself clearly
She’s withdrawn and she is extremely shy
She doesn’t like any type of physical contact, even
hugs from family members
It is not time to solve the problem yet.
At this point during Problem Solving the
objective is to find out more about the problem,
not offer solutions.
The process continued with more
questions from the audience like:
When did you start worrying about Christine?
 Is she able to work?
 How often do you see her?
 Was there anything else that happened in the recent
past that might have been unusual in her life
 Are you concerned about suicide?
 What do you do with your daughter when you see her?
 Does she ever talk about her illness?
 What are her strengths?
 Does she prepare her own meals?
Allow about 15 minutes for questions and
Once the question and answer section is
complete, summarize what you have learned.
Problem Solving Technique Step #2:
Solving the problem using “POW”
 Evaluate
the Past Experience
 Generate Options
 Plan for What if’s
Tasks to accomplish in Step #2
Past Experience
Ask the person what they have tried in the past in
order to solve the problem. List this on a separate
sheet of paper on the easel pad.
When all past solutions are listed, have the person
identify which have not worked and cross them off
with a red marker. Tell the group that the worst way
to solve a problem is to keep doing what doesn’t
work. Leave any solutions that have been somewhat
successful on the list.
What Norma has tried
Tried to get Christine to communicate with her about
this problem
 Tried to talk to Christine’s doctor
 Tried to involve her sister to help
 Tried to involve her “NAMI family”
 Brought Christine to work to get her out of the house
Tasks to accomplish in Step #2
Generate Options
Ask the group for new options
 Ask that the options be as specific as possible
 No options should be discounted or eliminated. This is
a brainstorming session and all options are valid in this
The group continues to brainstorm
a range of options
Tasks to accomplish in Step #2
What if’s
Summarize the list of options suggested by the group
Ask the person to pick a “first choice” option and
underline that option with a red marker
Ask the person: What if this doesn’t work? Then
allow the person to select a second choice from the list
as a backup solution. Star this item on the list and
give them the entire list to take home
Problem Solving Technique Step #3:
Set realistic expectations
The final step of Problem Solving is to remind the person
with the problem that it is important to create some
realistic expectations of
One’s self
One’s family
The goal of setting realistic expectations for ourselves
and others is to remain aware that while there are many
aspects of mental illness that are responsive to problem
solving, there are many that will not be. Our message of
hope is that we must never give up working together.
For more information on the Problem
Solving Technique and other skills used in
the provision of NAMI signature programs
please visit the NAMI Education, Training
and Support Center Help Desk at

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