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Problem Solving

Emotion And Problem Solving, Who Defines Couple And Family Problems?, The Problem-solving Process In Couples And Families


Family problems come in many sizes and shapes. They range from minor annoyances, such as spats between children, to life-threatening situations such as physical abuse by a parent. They may be brief events that disappear in minutes or recurring disputes that last a lifetime. Whatever their form and duration, problems are distinguished by the presence of negative experiences for some family members. Such experiences provide natural motivation to eliminate the problem. Solving a family problem means finding a way to remove the negative experiences without creating new difficulties.

Humans have a variety of innate capabilities that are used for solving problems (Pinker 1997; Ellis and Seigler 1994). These include the abilities to recognize patterns in human situations, to recall relevant events from the past, to visualize events that may occur in the future, and to weigh the likely consequences of alternate future actions. One particular combination of abilities, rational problem solving, is especially important. It was initially identified in studies of the human thought process (Dewey [1910] 1982) and has been widely applied in work with couples and families (Forgatch and Patterson 1989; Vuchinich 1999). This form of problem solving occurs in a sequence of stages: (1) the problem is clearly defined; (2) several alternative possible solutions are generated; (3) each alternative is evaluated in terms of potential costs and benefits; (4) one alternative is selected as having the best potential to solve the problem; and (5) the solution is applied and adjusted as necessary.

These stages are generally recognized as being logical and based on elements of common sense. Indeed, they may be seen as essential to adaptation in the process of evolution (Pinker 1997; Vuchinich 1999). Using some variation of them provides a way to make changes that are likely to help eliminate the problem. However, individuals do not always use a rational approach to dealing with the difficulties in their lives. Other approaches to problem solving are prevalent and are often linked to couple and family dysfunctions.


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