Last week I explored several key reasons that Biblical Counselors give homework. I focused particularly on the benefits it provides to counselors as they seek to be the most help that they can be to their counselees. But homework very obviously helps counseless too, and turning our attention now to the benefits to them will further support the practice of assigning homework. There are seven benefits of regular homework for the counselee.
First, homework teaches submission to the Word of God – Often our problems stem from living outside of God’s will or being dissatisfied with God’s will. Homework that forces a counselee to engage with God’s Word is teaching them to submit to God’s will. It teaches them to reshape their desires and agendas according to His desires and agendas. This is crucial for making real progress in transformation. Submission to my own will is what most frequently gets me in trouble, learning God’s will and learning to surrender to it is part of the process of change. This is also why, of course, counselors need to always give homework grounded in the Scriptures.
Second, homework emphasizes Personal Responsibility – Biblical homework emphasizes the counselee’s role in the process of sanctification. If they have to study and apply God’s Word for themselves then they cannot put all the burden of change on their counselor or on their circumstances. They must be actively involved in engaging in work between sessions. So, when one man complained that I had not helped him at all in counseling, I pointed to the unfinished homework which had piled up for several weeks. It was beyond my ability to change him, but I had given him many opportunities to begin to implement the principles and tools that we were learning. Counselees have a role to play, which goes far beyond coming to counseling for an hour a week and venting their problems. In fact a repeated failure to do the homework may be grounds for the termination of counseling.
Third, homework helps to habituate truth – Transformation is not the same as information. We can give people all the truth in the world, but if they don’t learn to apply it and be governed by it then they won’t change. Most people do not need more information, they need help and accountability. The guy looking at porn every day doesn’t really need me to tell him it’s a sin. He doesn’t even really need me to tell him to get accountability software, to put his computer in a public place, get rid of his smart phone, etc. He knows many of these things, but he is struggling to act upon them. Information doesn’t generally change people – though we do need information. What we need rather is new habits of godliness.
We have cultivated sinful habits over many years and it takes time and hard work to develop new habits. Homework is a way to engage in the practice of godliness. It is truth applied. Paul tells the Philippians, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:9). The Philippians, in other words, have the truth, but they must practice it. Anxiety, in their case, isn’t just going to vanish because they know certain truths. They are going to have to practice trusting the Lord, imitating Paul, and “thinking on” “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,” or excellent or worthy of praise (4:8). Practice is what makes the real difference. So, someone may learn lessons in counseling, but actually working on them at home is what ingrains them into the life. Homework gives counselees the opportunity to develop new habits. This is also why good counselors may assign the same homework for several weeks in a row.
Fourth, homework helps advance growth and development between sessions – I mentioned this one in the previous post, but counselors must recognize that we can only do so much to help a person in 60 minutes. To truly be effective counseling has to move beyond the session. So, homework helps to keep a person on task, remind them of the lessons they’ve learned, and progress them forward in between meetings. Robyn Huck notes that effective homework “does not just repeat what happened in your office but leads to the next step of discovery or practice” (“Effective Homework in Counseling,” JBC 27:1. 78). So we design homework to build upon what we’ve discussed in the formal session, and we aim to keep counslees on task and moving forward even when not meeting with us.
Fifth, homework reorients counselees to God’s truth in the midst of circumstances – It’s one thing to know the truth and believe the truth when you are sitting in a counseling session. It is another thing to know it, believe it, cling to it, and live it in the midst of our difficult circumstances. This is the realm of real life problems, so if we are going to grow we must learn to keep this truth before us during the routines and struggles of life. People need more than a weekly pick-me-up, they need tools to help them truly change. Homework helps to keep a counselee engaged with the things of God throughout their normal days. So, homework should ask them to evaluate their beliefs, attitudes, desires, and behaviors during normal life. It should invite them to reflect on God’s truth during the daily grind. It should help them to turn to Him when their days are overwhelming.
Sixth, homework promotes participation in the Body of Christ – Lastly, homework invites accountability and therefore reminds people that they are not on their own, nor do they have the luxury of being so. They have to report each week on their assignments, they have to follow through, they have to submit to another. This is all important. We are all far too committed to our belief in the right to privacy. Nobody has the right to stick their nose into my business and tell me what to do. Nobody needs to know what’s going on in my life. Homework challenges it by requiring us to be accountable to one another and submit to one another. We are part of a larger body and as such we have to be engaged with that body. Homework serves to keep that before us and make us accountability, for it is in these relationships that we will experience real and lasting growth.
Homework has many important benefits for the counselee, these are just some of them. Next week we will turn attention to consider the actual crafting of homework, but we must do so in light of these rationales and conviction.