As an old proverbs states « Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand. » In a few words, this wise saying reminds us that discussion, reflection or analysis are not sufficient to effect lasting change. If we want to make a real difference in our lives, we need to take action because we truly learn and change by doing. That is why therapists will often provide homework assignments and stress the importance of practicing new behaviours to develop more functional attitudes, thoughts, and feelings.
But homework is not exactly what you have in mind as you attend your first counselling session! Foremost, you probably want to be heard, understood and supported. And of course you want to see changes, but it is likely not yet clear to you how this will happen. As trust builds and counselling progresses, you will get a clearer idea of the desired change and work collaboratively with your counsellor to create homework assignments to achieve that end. As Jeffrey Kottler, one of today’s foremost writers in the field of psychotherapy stated: “the most successful and lasting changes… (do) not come from my efforts to structure and prescribe homework. Rather they come from our collaborative partnership in which we invented something new.”
For some, highly structured tasks will work better, as when someone is exposed gradually to a feared situation in a systematic, step-by-step fashion. For others, a more open-ended approach may be more congruent with their learning style; a task such as journal writing or mindful relaxation may promote a more creative engagement.
Commitment to the assignments is a critical factor to the success of counselling. This is also true for couples and families. Sometimes, a spouse will wait for his or her partner to initiate the homework and then end up not doing it at all or blaming his or her partner for it. This will defeat one of the main purposes of homework, which is to provide successful experiences, which in turn translate into a greater sense of accomplishment, confidence, hope, and self-efficacy.
The work that goes on between sessions is as important, if not more so, than what happens during the counselling hour. Even though good homework assignments run the risk of driving counsellors out of business, what better goal can counselling have than to teach clients how to be a therapist to themselves. So, let me end by suggesting just a few ideas. Who knows, maybe one of them will be of interest to you!
- Spend the week noticing the positive in your relationship and in each other
- Practice a body-awareness exercises ten minutes a day (when is the last time you truly took time to feel your eyebrows or your small toes)
- Pick a 20-minute period everyday during which you will give your total attention to your child
- Get a dog and start enjoying daily walks in the park (or in the mountains once in a while)
- Try something new (especially if it is something you would rather avoid)
- Choose to spend time helping out at your local library, mentoring a child, or any other volunteering activities.
- Slow things down and do something enjoyable (soak in a tub, read a good book, watch your favourite comedy)
- And last, but not least, stretch in your shower in the morning! Stretching will help to release stored tension and enable you to start the day on the right foot.