In CBT, problem solving needs to focus on very specific and manageable problems that actually have potential solutions. When we’re depressed, there’s a tendency to try to solve the problems, “Why am I depressed?” and “How can I stop being depressed?” But these problems don’t have simple solutions. We can’t solve them all at once.
Trying to problem solve “Why am I depressed?” usually leads to rumination, thinking in circles getting nowhere, and making ourselves feel even worse. And trying to solve “How can I stop being depressed?” usually leads to similar results.
Treating depression involves a series of small steps and gradual changes in our behaviors and thoughts. This is why we start with behavioural activation and cognitive restructuring before attempting problem solving. Problem solving “depression” in one fell swoop doesn’t work.
Instead, we problem solve issues that arise from our attempts to modify our behaviors and our thoughts. In order for problem solving to be successful, we need to limit the scope of the problems we’re trying to solve. And then we come up with action plans to implement our solutions.