Structured problem-solving

We all face problems in life and structured problem-solving is a proven approach that many people have found helpful for working through difficult problems, no matter what they are.

Structured problem-solving (SPS) is a skill people can learn that helps them to step back and look at their problems in a clearer, more structured way. It’s a thinking skill that can help people take control of their problems and gives them a road map to follow. It is widely used by personal coaches and has also proven helpful in managing mild-to-moderate depression.

Structured problem-solving can be done by a person on their own, with someone else or as a small group. The aim is to clearly define the problem and then work together to generate ideas and solutions.

People may find this useful when dealing with a current problem, and once they have learnt the technique they may find it helpful when dealing with future issues.

Structured problem-solving became popular after proving useful for people with alcohol and drug problems. Structured problem-solving is now used by everyone and anyone, as the principles apply no matter what the issue.


Common issues managed with structured problem-solving include:

  • becoming more active

  • taking medicines

  • changing to healthy food options

  • joining a club.

Try using this problem-solving worksheet to help guide you through the steps.

Structured problem-solving training module

Training module

Structured problem-solving training module developed by Health Navigator NZ & Health Literacy NZ as part of the self-management support course. 

Learn more

Mood Juice NHS Scotland
Problem solving – for people living with health conditions
NHS Foundation Trust, UK, 2014


Blashki G, et al. Structured problem solving in general practice. Aust Fam Physician. 2003 Oct; 32(10), October 2003 

McKay M & Fanning P. Successful problem-solving – a workbook to overcome the four core beliefs that keep you stuck Oakland, CA: New Harbinger; 2002.

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About Self-Management Support NZ

This website is designed for health providers who are interested in self-management, care planning, health literacy and working in partnership with their clients, patients and families.

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