YOUNG people should be encouraged to fight back against society’s “problem addiction” and instead be taught solution-based techniques, according to an Edinburgh-based academic, therapist and life coach.

Rayya Ghul, an internationally renowned “solution-focused practitioner” at Edinburgh University, is delivering the Are You a Problem Addict? event on Monday as part of the Edinburgh Fringe at the Stand’s New Town theatre.

She claims problems are “like whirlpools” and argues talking endlessly about them can spiral into negative thinking that doesn’t always produce solutions. Instead, she encourages people to break free by identifying what they really want and working out how to take simple steps toward solutions.

The number of people being treated for mental health issues has been consistently rising in recent years, leading to concerns about the need to address wellbeing in a sustainable way.

Young people are particularly affected with long waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and record numbers of students and school pupils approaching counsellors for help.

Ghul claims that teaching the solution-based talking and thinking techniques in schools could help empower young people to take control of their own issues and feel more able to cope without professional input. She would also like to see the solution-based techniques “normalised” in society and taught in community centres and other settings.

“Problem-solving works really well if it’s an actual problem, “ she said. “You can find something to fix, something to add in. It works well in physical medicine – a doctor might fix your broken leg, add a pacemaker or take away a disease.

“Models of psychology and psychotherapy are also often based on the idea that there is an ideal way to be and what we need to do is work out a way to get ourselves there. That idea has leaked so clearly into everyday society we naturally think that’s what should we be doing.

“But problems solving doesn’t work so well in messy or complex situations, and generally speaking human issues are just that. To find something to fix, you need to find something wrong, with you or with other people. Because we are addicted to this problem-solving approach sometimes we’ll just find something to point the finger at – we’ll start to make it up – look for ourselves and others that are wrong. All of that makes us feel really bad and can get us stuck in this whirlpool.”

She claims the solution-based approach, explored in her book – The Power of the Next Step – is a simple enough for anyone to use. Instead of highlighting problems, she suggests framing issues around what we want to happen, how and when we might cope best, what changes could be made, and what small steps forward might be achievable.

“We are sometimes inadvertently getting people to focus so much on their problems it can be disempowering and distressing,” she said. “What we need instead are conversations that actually lead to change.”

Originally developed in the US by social workers Ghul advocates bringing it into everyday use. “We should be teaching children this in school,” she added. “

“I want to prevent so much need for professional services. I want to promote everyday use of solution focussed approaches so that communities can help themselves. Once you get it, it’s very straight-focussed. It is not a psychological approach, so are not digging into people’s dark areas and not knowing what to do with that.”

Toni Giugliano, Scottish policy manager for the Mental Health Foundation, said it welcomed calls to better help young people better manage their mental health. The charity is currently campaigning for Scotland to adopt mental health education, which is already delivered in England.

“Wellbeing for young people at school is just as important as numerously or literacy. It’s about getting our kids to think about how to deal with the big issues in their lives. They are under so much pressure – to get the right job, the right relationship the perfect body and then you add social media into that mix. We need wellbeing and mental health to be part of the curriculum and to train our teachers to deliver it.

The Four Steps:

WANT to kick your problem addiction? Follow these steps to a solution focussed approach instead.

  1.  Work out what you’d like the future to be like. What’s your best hope? What do you want instead of what’s happening now? Do this in as much detail as possible: who, what, where, when? Ask what difference will that make to your life. This helps work out what you really want.
  2. Establish some building blocks from where you are now: what is already happening? What’s working right now? What’s worked in the past? What are you like at your best?
  3. What’s the next small step? Carry out tiny experiments to see what works best for you. Be gentle.
  4. Notice and celebrate your success, big or small.