girl sitting down writing in journal

The Problem Map

One of Collide’s core values is to recognize brokenness so it can be made whole. We have a growing community of women walking toward healing, as well as a community of counselors who are partnering with us to this end. We hope you not only enjoy hearing a counselor’s voice here, but that you open yourself up to the transformational work God is calling you into so that you can see His healing as a reality in your life.

Too often the problems we face start to make us feel powerless in our own lives.  Sometimes, we begin to accept these problems into our lives, almost without noticing how much power they have taken from us. When I notice I’m feeling overwhelmed by something, I’ve found it helpful to step back and really take a look at a problem: look over it, around it, and under it, considering factors that missed my attention before. In taking the time to consider the problem doesn’t own or control us in all the ways we thought it did, hope can begin to spill back into our vision and we realize we don’t feel helpless anymore. There is a process I’ve found helpful for people who are struggling under the weight of a problem. It can be powerful to be able to see this process all at once when you are finished, so take a piece of paper and turn it sideways (landscape-style).

Here are the steps:

  1. At the top of your paper, name that problem. For this exercise, the best problem to define is one that you have some control over. So instead of naming a person from a difficult relationship, name the consequence of the relationship on you (insecurity, fear, inferiority, being a doormat or caretaker, etc.). You can do this exercise naming a medical issue, but it also works to dig a little deeper underneath and name what the diagnosis or injury has brought up in you (fear of the future, forgotten by God, fatigue, anger towards/on behalf of someone).
  2. A metaphor can help you look at the problem from an emotional or sensory viewpoint. For example, the problem might feel like an avalanche, a trapdoor, freezing wind, tornado, quicksand, a tidal wave, an earthquake, a dark cloud. All of these pictures have slightly different feelings associated, so your metaphor is personal to how you feel when the problem attempts to take over. Your metaphor may also give you some clues as to how the problem has tricked you into giving it power (maybe it comes on suddenly, or maybe it sneaks up on you slowly, or maybe it comes disguised as a coping method).  Write your metaphor (or draw it) near the name of your problem.
  3. On the left side of your paper, list what this problem brings with it. When that wind or cloud comes blowing in, what changes do you notice in yourself?
  4. On the right side, list what you could be doing if the problem stopped coming into your life. What can you imagine having the time, energy, or joy for if you weren’t worrying about the problem?
  5. As you consider your first two lists (the combined cost of the problem to your life), in the middle of your paper, list your feelings towards the problem. This is your chance to be totally real with yourself.
  6. Take a moment to evaluate whether your problem meets any needs. Some problems clearly don’t help in any way, and you can skip this step and #7. However, some problems actually started out as ways to cope with something else but became big problems all on their own (sometimes much worse than the original problem you were trying to cope with). Some examples of coping problems might be drinking to ease social anxiety, shopping to block out relationship stress, gaming for depression, eating issues for anxiety, or social media to numb work stress. For coping problems, sometimes we aren’t actually aware of why we started it in the first place, and then before we know it, the new problem generalizes into other areas of life. On the lower-left-middle section of your paper, for a problem like this, list any need the problem may still be meeting.
  7. On the lower-right-middle section, list ways other than the problem to get the needs met listed in step #5. This is your chance to be open and really brainstorm what other ways of coping might work better for you, no matter how unrealistic they might seem right now.

As you look over the problem map, you can now make some connections about how this problem is truly impacting your life. You may also see the beginning of a plan to change things up. You may see some hope that you just might have some other options.

If you find that you have new insight and ideas, but still feel pretty powerless to fight this problem, then consider adding some support in your life. Counseling, a general recovery group, a specific support group targeting this problem, a close friend, mentor, or sponsor are all great options for enlisting help in taking the power back from the problem. As Christ-followers, we also have the support of the One who created us and knows all things, including every problem we will ever face. When we lose our way, He lights the way back home. It is my hope that the problem on your map has already lost some of its power in your life. You may just find that your new clarity brings courage and hope, a powerful duo.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

The spirit and ideas for this exercise are respectfully adapted from Playful Approaches to Serious Problems: Narrative Therapy with Children and Their Families by Jennifer Freeman, David Epston, and Dean Lobovits.

This post was written by a counselor or therapist for informational use only and is not intended to replace advice from a professional who is working directly with you as a patient [or client].

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