Why I do more homework than my clients
If you've learned anything about therapy before, especially something structured like CBT, you will know about therapy 'homework' or between session work where you tasks are set to complete before you next meet up. Clients often have mixed feelings about doing this, sometimes it reminds them of school, for example. There's a lot of emphasis put on the idea of homework, so it's supposed to show how motivated people are and can affect the outcome (the more you put in, the more you get out). For the most part homework is set up with the therapist to be completed by the client, but sometimes there is also a bit of between session work done by the therapist too (usually completing surveys). However, that's not what I'm talking about when I say that I do homework for my clients.....
When I started looking at adapted interventions for the young people I work with in Early Intervention we started looking at ways to engage people using their own interests (this eventually became part of a project I run called heavy metal therapy but this isn't about that specifically). I started using music, lyrics and other media in the session that clients had selected to describe their feelings or experiences. What started happening was that people asked me to listen to stuff or watch things in between the sessions so that we could use the session time to reflect on it. Now obviously there are some pitfalls in this, not having infinite time being one of them, and the joys of playing very sweary metalcore in the office displeasing your colleagues. But, over time, I have been converted to this approach for a few reasons:
- It’s good for the power dynamic, you become less of a ‘teacher’ suggesting tasks for the client, and it feels more like you are finding out together
- It’s good for engagement
- If you agree to do homework for them, they are more likely to do homework for you!
- By demonstrating a willingness to do homework in between the sessions you are showing that you are taking them seriously, have them in mind, and have really made an effort to understand the problem from their perspective.
- It does make it more efficient to discuss things in the session when time would have otherwise been taken up with listening or watching material.
- Quite a few of my clients find it easier to talk about something that they know I’ve watched then to watch it directly together as it provides a little bit of distance and can take some of the emotional weight out of the conversation. In some cases this has been the only way that they have been able to tell me something (usually something pretty important)
- It keeps me up to date with music which helps when most of your clients are teenagers!
Obviously there are boundary issues to bear in mind with this, I don’t spend hours and hours on homework and I’m fortunate that there is flexibility in my work place with smaller caseloads than some other therapists. However, if you can, I recommend doing your homework!