Did my therapist just give me homework?
Homework isn’t just something you deal with in school - it’s also a great tool that therapists use to help you work on a particular issue in between your sessions. If your therapist assigned a project or task for you to complete before your meeting, view it as a positive step in your overall outcome for therapy. Why? Homework serves as a way to build upon topics discussed within your hourly sessions so that you’ll be better able to develop behaviors that improve your mental health.
To help get the most out of your talk therapy, approach it as a collaborative effort and follow your agreed-upon plan for treatment. Your therapist might end your sessions with a task to work on or think about before your next meeting - these are activities or projects that have a specific purpose in mind. Some examples include: writing in a journal, practicing a dialogue technique, or making a list of things that make you feel stuck. It’s a very constructive way to get the most out of your working relationship, recognizing the fact that one hour a week is just the starting point to helping you meet your therapy goals.
When tasked with helping you break through a particular issue, some homework might require courage, but they’re designed to facilitate your growth. For example, someone who experiences social anxiety might be assigned the goal of talking to one new person at work that week. Provided by a skilled therapist and within the context of personal development, the benefit here is that whatever interaction happens - and how it makes you feel - can be processed and discussed in your next therapy session. Perhaps it can build greater confidence in the future and soften the social anxiety, or it might serve as a skill-building tool as you work with your therapist to brainstorm other ways of breaking the ice if the first was less than successful.
Much like any teacher, a therapist uses homework to improve your experience and help you get the most out of the working relationship between the two of you. Being patient, open, and willing to participate in the process is the hallmark of a positive therapeutic alliance and will only improve your chances that you’ll have a good outcome.
As you approach your homework with an open mind, be sure to communicate with your therapist about how the assignments are working for you. You might find that the between-sessions work is meaningful and useful. You might even come up with a suggestion for something else that you’d like to try in addition, and with your therapist’s support, perhaps even try something you’d be afraid to try on your own.
Even though there’s no A, Honor Roll or Spring Break after your therapy homework, it’s a valuable tool that many skilled therapists use and you’re wise to approach it with an open mind. As you build skills and begin to explore trouble spots, spending the time in between sessions to work on your therapy goals is the kind of collaborative effort that will fortify your mental health and help you feel empowered.