Therapy Homework: Boom or a Bust?
If this is your first or your fifth attempt at therapy, you may walk in the door with a set of preconceived notions about how the entire process should work.
Or you may have zero clue, but you have an inkling that it will at least involve talking, maybe (usually hopefully!) some solutions the therapist will give you that will make all of your struggles vanish, and possibly a few things to try at home.
Other clients really walk in hoping that an hour per week will be enough to make lasting changes and for some people, this is absolutely true (gasp I know, we’re all different!).
It’s not enough to just talk for an hour a week when there are 168 available to you. What are you going to do with the other 167 hours of your week to get you to a better place?
The truth is that we work with so many varied clients that we can’t ever assume you will want a large amount of homework, reading or “stuff” to try. Some clients are extremely frustrated if we ask them to work on more outside of sessions. Often in reality they have a ton on their plate. They just currently don’t have time to work outside of session, but many they work their tail off in the therapy room!
Other clients REALLY want direction after we meet each week, from a book, to an inspiring TED talk, or maybe a set of behaviors to try to manage anxiety, or to work through panic attacks.
What kind of homework do you do in therapy?
The main takeaway here is that your therapist, no matter how great they are, will never know what you need unless you let them know. If homework is too much right now, never be too afraid to speak up. We aren’t going to judge you if you need something less intense for a period of time, so maybe something like less journaling and more “pay attention and be aware when XYZ crosses your mind this week”.
We love our jobs. I know I do! We are passionate about mental wellness, finding peace and enjoying life, and we want to get you there!
You may be thinking “I’m not really a journaling kind of person”. Cool! It takes all kinds to make this world go around! The best place is to start with what goals you want to accomplish in the next week and next month. This helps us both develop a plan with action steps.
Why do we assign homework in counseling?
- It provides you the practice you need to apply the skills we’ve talked about in session
- Practicing skills is just like every other life changing behavior- you must do it daily to see real change.
- The more change you do outside of session, the more you see that you CAN do this on your own!
- It gives you the fantastic ability to take charge of your own life and give feedback about what is working and what isn’t.
- The main purpose of assigning homework is to recognize that real change takes place outside the therapy office.
We mainly know that in the long run, research has shown over and over that clients who engage in their treatment goals outside of session find better and faster outcomes.
So is homework necessary? Is it an absolute must? Is it a waste of time?
It depends. We do know from research that the more a client works outside of session, the more they are likely to achieve the outcomes THEY want to accomplish. Meaning the thing you walked into therapy to solve or do or work through tends to be done when you’re working outside of sessions.
sWell that’s part of where we really work well together. You and I, together, will create meaningful assignments that not only are successful, but are meant to help you with following through.
That why I try so many varied options with my clients, because a TED talk may change one person’s life, while another requires daily journaling about their anxiety.
Here are the things I think are pretty universally true.
- When you set intentions and start walking down a path, you are likely to keep walking down that path. If you’re avoiding getting better, the likelihood is that you will continue that no matter how many sessions you do. If you’re all about finding a new way of living, that will likely happen as well. Intention is probably the most significant homework there is.
- Optional? Sure! I’ve seen lots of clients who are far more “in their heads” and simply needed someone to help clear out the cluttered thoughts. They simply needed a fresh perspective or only homework that required thinking about something a certain way. Is that homework? Sure!
- I think you’ll always reach a goal faster the more you practice, and homework is merely meant to be exactly that. If you don’t practice reducing anxiety or emotions. If you don’t practice managing loneliness after a break up. If you don’t practice whatever else you’re walking in the door to work on, we can only get so far. We’ll get there, but most people would prefer sooner over later! The more you practice, read, watch or think about, the faster it tends to happen.
Long lasting meaningful change happens in a day in-day out, one foot in front of the other kind of fashion, like any other large scale task like losing weight, getting over an ex or finding happiness again.
At the end of the day, the principle will always be true that “you gotta do the work”.
If you are hoping to find some great links or resources, head on over to our resource library and find a great collection of “stuff” I often share, link or assign clients!