Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) is an evidence-based approach that focuses on understanding and addressing the root causes of challenging behavior in children and adolescents. Developed by Dr. Ross Greene, CPS aims to foster empathy, communication, and collaboration between parents, children, and professionals, ultimately leading to more effective and lasting solutions for family issues. This resource guide provides an overview of the CPS model, outlines the key principles and steps involved, and offers practical tips and strategies for counselors working with families. 

The Collaborative Problem Solving Model 

1. Understanding the CPS Philosophy

CPS is grounded in the belief that children do well if they can. The approach posits that challenging behavior is not due to a lack of motivation, attention-seeking, or manipulation but rather a result of lagging skills and unsolved problems. By understanding and addressing these underlying factors, counselors can help families develop more effective, compassionate, and sustainable solutions. 

2. Key Principles of CPS 

  • Empathy: The foundation of the CPS model is empathic understanding, which involves recognizing and validating the feelings and perspectives of all family members. 

  • Collaboration: CPS emphasizes the importance of working together rather than relying on unilateral decision-making or power-based approaches. 

  • Skill-building: The approach focuses on identifying and addressing lagging skills, such as emotion regulation, problem-solving, and communication, to promote lasting change. 

Implementing the Collaborative Problem Solving Process 

1. Identifying Lagging Skills 

The first step in the CPS process is to identify the specific skills that a child may be struggling with. This can be done through a combination of observation, interviews, and assessments. Some common lagging skills include: 

  • Emotional regulation 

  • Flexibility 

  • Impulse control 

  • Problem-solving 

  • Communication 

2. Uncovering Unsolved Problems 

Once lagging skills have been identified, the next step is to determine the specific situations or problems that are causing difficulties for the child and family. Unsolved problems are often characterized by predictability and can be uncovered through discussions with family members and the child. 

3. The Three Steps of Collaborative Problem Solving

The CPS process involves three primary steps, which can be adapted and tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of each family. 

  • Step 1: Empathy

Begin by gathering information and understanding the child’s perspective on the problem. This step involves active listening, validating emotions, and demonstrating genuine curiosity. 

  • Step 2: Define Adult Concerns

Clearly articulate the parent or caregiver’s concerns and needs regarding the situation. This step promotes mutual understanding and acknowledges the importance of addressing both the child’s and the adult’s concerns. 

  • Step 3: Invitation to Collaborate 

Invite the child and parent to brainstorm possible solutions together. Encourage them to consider a range of ideas and evaluate each option based on its feasibility and effectiveness in addressing both the child’s and the adult’s concerns. 

Tips and Strategies for Counselors 

1. Build Rapport and Establish Trust 

Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance with both the child and the parent is essential for the success of CPS. Be patient, empathetic, and transparent in your approach in order to foster trust and cooperation. 

2. Use Reflective Listening and Validation 

Active listening and validation are crucial tools in the CPS process. Reflect back the emotions and concerns of family members to ensure they feel heard and understood. 

3. Encourage Open Communication 

Create a safe and non-judgmental environment that encourages open communication and allows family members to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of criticism or rejection. 

4. Be Flexible and Adaptable 

Each family is unique, and the CPS process may need to be adapted to suit their specific needs and circumstances. Be prepared to modify your approach, pacing, and techniques as needed to best support the family. 

5. Provide Support and Guidance 

As a counselor, your role is to facilitate the CPS process and provide guidance and support to the family throughout. Offer suggestions, ask probing questions, and share relevant resources to help family members develop their problem-solving skills. 

6. Monitor Progress and Adjust 

Regularly assess the family’s progress and the effectiveness of the solutions they’ve implemented. Be prepared to revisit and adjust the problem-solving process as needed, based on the family’s evolving needs and circumstances. 

7. Encourage Skill-Building 

As part of the CPS process, help family members develop and practice the skills necessary to address their unsolved problems effectively. This may include offering resources, psychoeducation, or skill-building exercises to support growth in areas such as emotion regulation, communication, and flexibility. 

Collaborative Problem Solving offers a compassionate and effective approach to addressing challenging behaviors and family issues. By understanding the underlying causes of these difficulties and engaging in a collaborative, empathic problem-solving process, counselors can help families develop lasting solutions and strengthen their relationships. By following the principles and steps outlined in this resource guide and adapting your approach to meet the unique needs of each family, you can support families in achieving positive, sustainable change. 

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