I am frequently asked by other counselors my thoughts with regard to homework in counseling. Typically, there are two specific questions:
- Do you give homework?
- What kind of homework do you give?
I’m probably not the best person to ask because I do not take the traditional counseling approach when it comes to homework in counseling. For example, I never use the Personal Data Inventory form (PDI). I also don’t do lists, forms, and other common homework practices. Furthermore, I rarely spend time thinking about homework, or the traditional homework practices in the counseling movement.
I’m not saying that my way is the right way and maybe I’m just lazy, but I have not found the traditional homework practices to be very helpful as far as long-term, progressive sanctification is concerned. A part of my philosophy is born out of my goals and vision for the person I am serving in counseling.
What is Your End Goal for Your Counselee?
The end of counseling is not for the counselee to become a better person or even overcome their problems. That is a myopic goal. The end goal for them is to love God and their neighbor, which is worked out as a God-glorifying, disciple-maker. Becoming a better person is the mid-point in counseling. The end point is for them to obey the great commandment to go out and make disciples. The end of the counseling process is not so much about the counselee, but about the people they will be able to serve. Being a better person is the goal of secular counseling. Being a better disciple-maker is a picture of the Gospel. See Phil. 2:5-10
Therefore, my homework is designed to teach them more about being a better discipler rather than a better person. Modeling the Gospel is not primarily about feeling better, but about sharing the Gospel with others. One of the reasons people get into the various funks they find themselves in, is because their world has been reduced to the point where their primary thoughts are about themselves rather than others.
My goal is to get them to think less about themselves and more about others. Therefore, the homework I assign has this goal in mind. The homework can, in part, be used to communicate my vision for them.
Why I Don’t Use the PDI
I do use the PDI, but not in a traditional way in which it is used. I don’t use the form. Rather, I talk to the counselee. I get the same information that is on a PDI, but I get it in the context of a relationship. Typically one of the problems with a counselee is that there is some sort of relational dysfunction going on in his/her life.
He may be angry or impatient or exhibit some other sinful, relational attitude and behavior. One of the things I’m trying to accomplish by not using a form is that I have the opportunity to teach him how to interact, talk, work through questions, look me in the eye, learn about me, as well as me learning about him. I can also ask more questions that are not on the PDI.
I prefer to accomplish all of this in a context in which I want him to learn how to participate in with his friends. I want to create an intentionally relational context for him. Therefore, we talk! The PDI form gets in my way of accomplishing my vision for him.
I do not want to start the counseling process in a sterile, therapeutic context, which a form like the PDI can communicate. I want to begin our counseling process in a relationship. This is why I keep the end in mind. If I want them to be mature, Christian disciplers, then I need to show them how to disciple others. I begin that envisioning process when they make their first call to meet.
This is also why I counsel for two hours. It’s about relationship.