Talk about Homework before Leaving the Counselling Office

Posted by: Debbie Grove on May 24, 2011 1:21 pm

You are likely familiar with the idea that ‘homework’ between counselling sessions is often suggested by counsellors. Homework comes in many different forms (e.g., reading a self-help book, starting a journal, practising a skill such as stress management, working on communicating with your partner, noticing what triggers depression, and so on). However, homework is not always helpful and effective — below are some key reasons why this is the case.

Too Much of a Good Thing

In an effort to provide information, resources, and between-session exercises, there can simply be too many recommendations and suggestions by counsellors. This can generate confusion about what to focus on between sessions. Moreover, given how busy life can be with family, work, and other roles and responsibilities, it is unlikely all of the recommendations will be tried. It is much more effective to focus on one homework idea. This calls for a collaborative conversation between clients and counsellors about the one homework exercise that is manageable and realistic within the realm of real life, and, that fits with the focus of counselling!

Not Understanding the Rationale

It is important to understand why we are doing something. A homework suggestion that is unclear will not likely be helpful. A recommendation has to make sense, e.g., Why is the counsellor suggesting it? How does it relate to the counselling goal? How does it continue the work being done within counselling sessions? If a counsellor does not explain the rationale for a homework suggestion, it is a good idea for clients to ask the intent of the exercise. We are much more apt to begin and/or complete a task if we have a clear understanding of its intended outcome. Importantly, when the rationale is understood, this empowers individuals and helps motivate ongoing self-evaluation of progress.

Preferred Learning Style and Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

People differ in how they prefer to learn. For example, while some individuals find self-help books valuable, others prefer experiential learning (e.g., learn by doing), self-reflection, and self-expression through art and writing. One size does not fit all when it comes to continued learning outside the context of counselling. At the same time, though, stepping outside one’s learning style comfort zone can foster self-understanding and new ways to work through issues.

Remembering the Homework Suggestion

As a session is winding up, there may not be a lot of time to fully explore next steps including recommendations for homework. Hopefully the counsellor has left time for this important component of counselling. When homework suggestions are made, it can be challenging to remember the details. Writing down the homework is generally necessary.

The Solution: When your counsellor or psychotherapist suggests a homework assignment, ensure it makes sense in terms of your counselling goal(s). If the assignment is unclear, ask for clarification, write it down, and confirm you understand it. Hopefully your counsellor will check-in and ask you these questions before you head out the door!

The views expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the views of the CCPA. Dr. Debbie Grove is a therapist working in Edmonton, Alberta. To learn more about her, visit her web site at

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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