Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a very practical therapy that involves homework as a huge part of the therapy process.
You may think of school when they hear the term “homework”, and that's understandable. However, homework in CBT is actually a really good thing. The reason that there is a heavy focus on homework or “between session tasks,” during the therapy process is because it is at this point where you can practice the skills you have learnt in therapy. It also tends to be where the magic happens, new learning takes place and people start to notice a shift in how they are feeling.
Imagine you and a friend want to learn a new language and sign up for Spanish lessons once a week. If you attend the one-hour weekly session but do not practise between sessions, but your friend practises daily in addition to attending the weekly session, who do you think will pick up more of the language? If your answer is your friend, then you are right! CBT is very similar in that those who make the time to practise using CBT skills daily are more likely to recover quicker and benefit more from CBT than those who just attend weekly sessions but do not complete the homework in between therapy sessions.
The goal of CBT is to teach you skills to become your own therapist so you can go on and self-manage your day-to-day symptoms and ultimately oversee your recovery. So, the more you practice mastering the skills outside of your therapy sessions, the better you will become in using those skills on your own and well into the future.
Quite often, us Brits like a quick fix, and many come to therapy expecting to be fixed without really doing anything. Unfortunately, this expectation is unrealistic. Most therapies nowadays involve work on both sides, and CBT is no different.
A typical homework task may be something such as completing an activity during the week that you used to enjoy or tackling something that you have been putting off such as paying a bill or booking a doctor’s appointment. It may also be something like having a conversation with a stranger, making a call to someone, or going somewhere that you have been avoiding, such as the supermarket. All homework tasks are decided together with your therapist and are designed to push you slightly out of your comfort zone. The tasks are always in line with your therapy goals and should be designed with those in mind.
Homework can be hard, especially if we are unmotivated or anxious about completing it. If you are having trouble completing the homework, have a chat with your therapist. Together, you should be able to problem solve it and come up with some solutions to try and make things seem more manageable. For example, it might be setting an alarm for a specific time each day to remind you to complete the task you have set yourself. Or it may be breaking the task down to something smaller that feels less overwhelming and more achievable.
It may also be worth thinking about how the homework task will help you work towards achieving your goals. Doing nothing, although easier, is not going to get you where you want to be and will likely keep you stuck where you are. However, doing the homework task will require effort and time, but it is likely to help you work step by step towards where you truly want to be.