How to stop being the “Problem Solver”

A campus photo of Laurel Hall during Spring.

This article is part of a running series with Rowan University’s Wellness Center. This collaboration aims to educate students about personal well-being options. For further updates, follow @rowanuwellness on social. This story is by Kathleen Ramos, senior nutrition major.

As college students, we all have our own personal problems. It could be about that one professor that you find to be difficult, having an argument with your roommates or just something going on back at home. What do we typically do when there’s an upcoming problem? We tend to vent to other people or ask for advice from a friend. We always have a friend’s back when they want to talk about something that’s making them stressed out. Our natural instinct to help them feel better or see what is causing them stress. However there is a difference between being their “friend” and being their “therapist”. It’s important to make sure they aren’t burdening you with their problem, that all of a sudden it becomes your problem. 

Kathleen standing by Discovery Hall at sunset.

Yes! It does get hard when you have to deal with a friend who is upset. There could be different circumstances where you can’t. Sometimes their “problem” is something that they could have caused. For example, your friend had a fight with their roommate and they are afraid to go back to their dorm so they just crash at your place instead. They keep on crying about it and you can’t help but feel bad for them. You try talking to them but nothing works and you end up staying up all night.  As a friend, you choose to be there for them and feel like it’s our responsibility to help them with their problem. 

According to this article by, when we hear about a problem, we feel uncomfortable or have a sense of no control, so we must find a solution. Naturally, we try to give them advice or come up with something for them. It’s not our job to come up with a solution for someone else. It shows that we are not truly listening and could feel judgmental or condescending.

Here are some tips on what we can do instead of being someone’s problem solver:

  1. Actually take the time to listen to what they have to say. Have your brain shut off for a bit and actively listen by asking questions, asking how they feel about it and validating their feelings.
  2. Offer support, not advice.  Say “I’m here for you” or ask them if they need a hug. That shows that you truly care about them and they will see that they have someone they can rely on.
  1. Summarizing what they told you. This will help to see if you understand where they are coming from and think about the situation in both a positive and negative way.
  2. If you do offer advice, ask them if they want to hear about it first. Sometimes, people don’t want to fix the problem and just want to vent to someone. Tell them possible resources that could help themselves.

While these might take a while to adjust to, it’s important to practice this as much as possible. We want to encourage our friends that they can help themselves and it will help you to not put so much pressure on yourself.


Why we try to solve other peoples problems and how to stop

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