Homework Assignments

Homework assignments are tasks that clients in counseling and psychotherapy work on between treatment sessions. Examples include having a depressed client do one rewarding activity a day, having a couple practice active listening skills between sessions, asking a Navajo client exploring career options to talk to an elder on the topic, having an anxious client practice progressive relaxation techniques, and asking clients to write down their dreams for later processing.

Homework Assignments Relevance

Homework is considered an important component in most behavioral, cognitive, systems, and solution-focused therapies. Practitioners of those methods assign homework with the greatest frequency, but most practitioners, regardless of theoretical perspective, employ home assignments at times. A panel of psychotherapy experts recently rated homework assignments as the intervention most likely to be used more frequently in future years. The economic pressures of managed care have helped spur the use of briefer forms of therapies, and homework has become a cost-effective way of increasing the impact of limited treatment time. Between-session activities have now been proposed by some theorists to be a common factor in the success of all brief therapies.

Purpose and Benefits of Homework Assignments

By using the intervals between sessions, homework assignments increase the time clients spend engaging in activities designed to speed their recovery. Homework allows the generalization and transfer of in-session treatment gains through the use of in-vivo practice in natural settings. Clients doing home tasks can acquire insight and skills, and are more likely to view themselves as change agents rather than as passive recipients of therapy. Many counselors and therapists assess homework compliance in evaluating both treatment progress and the strength of the working alliance. Successful homework is theorized to increase a client’s sense of mastery, self-efficacy, and optimism about treatment success. The skill-building approach of home activities reflects the goals of positive psychology models.

Homework Assignments History and Research

Recommendations for assigned tasks outside the therapy hour began appearing in the literature in the 1940s and 1950s. Theoretical and empirical attention to homework activities has largely paralleled the growth in popularity of cognitive and behavioral models of counseling and psychotherapy. Reflecting the pragmatic nature of homework itself, earlier writings often focused on practitioner recommendations, and became available in published workbooks and manuals. Empirical research has demonstrated that adherence to homework assignments is one of the predictors of successful treatment outcome, and that clients who do the most homework benefit the most in treatment.

Preliminary studies suggest that homework is more often completed when tasks are specific, rehearsed in session, and matched to client strengths, motivation level, and treatment goals. Clients may comply more when they have choices of tasks, and when therapists write down the assignment and review it in the next session. Issues presently being investigated by psychologists include these and other factors influencing client compliance with assignments, the reliability of measures of homework quality and compliance, and factors in the process of assigning homework that make it most effective.

References:

  1. Kazantzis, N., Deane, F. P., & Ronan, K. R. (2004). Assessing compliance with homework assignments: Review and recommendations for clinical practice. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 627-641.
  2. Scheel, M. J., Hanson, W. E., & Razzhavaikina, T. I. (2004). The process of recommending homework in psychotherapy: A review of therapist delivery methods, client acceptability, and factors that affect compliance. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41, 38-55.

See also: