8 TIPS to Help Clients Do Homework

Posted June 6, 2018

 

Dr. Lane P.: Hi, I’m Dr. Lane Pederson. One of the most common questions I get from participants in my seminars is, How do I get clients to do homework? In this short video, I’m going to share with you eight tips that I find to be very effective.

Dr. Lane P.: Now, the first one is simply changing the name. I often times say the word “homework” when I talk to other therapists, but I rarely use that word when I’m working with clients. Instead, I might say, “Let’s do a task.” or “Let’s do an experiment.” Sounds kind of fun. Or I might simply say, “Let’s do our skill practice.” Sometimes, just changing the name can make all the difference. I’ve met so many clients who are just simply allergic to the word “homework”.

Dr. Lane P.: The second tip is really important. At the beginning of therapy, I always want to orient and educate my client about why homework is important to them. Why do they need to practice these skills, or why do they need to practice what we learned in session between sessions? An analogy I like to use is: To not practice between session is a lot like going to a personal trainer and talking about exercising but not actually exercising between those sessions. You’re just not going to reach your goals. It really is about plugging into what’s important to clients. Where do they want to be in life? What does recovery look like? What do they want to accomplish? You explicitly make that connection between skill practice and what it is that they desire, what they want.

Dr. Lane P.: The next idea is to always include clients in coming up with ideas for skills practice or tasks, or experiments. A lot of times, we therapists think that we need to generate all of the ideas, but our ideas for what might be helpful in terms of homework might not resonate with some of our clients. So, instead of doing homework to clients, I like to think about doing homework with clients and spending some time with having them come up with what they think would be helpful to do between sessions.

Dr. Lane P.: Which leads us to the next tip, which is: if you want clients to do homework or tasks or experiments between sessions, it’s good to initiate that skills practice in session. So for example, if I want a client to practice guided imagery, we’re going to practice guided imagery in session. If it’s important for a client to fill out an application before the next session, I might have the client just start to fill out the first parts of the application in the session with me. There’s something about breaking the ice in session with homework that gets clients motivated to complete and to finish it between sessions outside of our time together.

Dr. Lane P.: The next idea is to take one problem or opportunity and play it off of another. So for example, let’s say that you have a client who would like to walk to get some self care exercise in and the client also would like to socialize more to decrease isolation. You can set it up so if you don’t do one, you need to definitely commit to doing the other, so in this case, if the client didn’t go for the walk, he or she would definitely need to call a friend or to get out and socialize in one way or another. It’s a strategy that works really well.

Dr. Lane P.: Related to this strategy is another one which is simply making it a game. So, if you have a dichotomous choice like doing a fun activity versus taking care of a task at home, more of a responsibility, you can simply flip a coin. Heads you do one, tales you do the other. Or if you and the client have brainstormed lots of ideas, simply draw a cards. So, one skills practice might be associated with hearts, another one with clubs, another one with spades, and so on.

Dr. Lane P.: The seventh tip that I have is using the Premack principle. The Premack principle means that you make performing a high probability behavior contingent on performing the low probability behavior first. We sometimes call this grandma’s rule. Grandma’s rule is this. When you eat your vegetables, then you can go out and play. So with the Premack principle, let’s say I have a client who turns on the television every night. He or she really loves to watch evening television. I might say, “I want you to do your skills practice and then you can turn on the television.” Of course, many of us naturally do this Premack principle. You know, I need to return my emails and then I can surf the internet. It’s such a great strategy because the reinforcement is built-in.

Dr. Lane P.: And now, for the very last tip … and this one I think is the heaviest hitter. It is so important to simply schedule it. A lot of clients don’t complete their homework simply because they haven’t thought about where and when they’re going to complete it.

Dr. Lane P.: There was a study that happened many years ago and in this study, there was one group of people who agreed to do a task. They were committed to doing it. The second group of people were also committed, but that group also determined when and where they were going to complete the task. They completed it 80% more of the time. Hey, think about you or me. A lot of us don’t complete what would be important to do in life simply because we don’t write it down, we don’t commit to it in the schedule. So, taking a little bit of time to schedule homework is going to make all of the difference for your clients.

Dr. Lane P.: I hope these eight tips help you out a lot and, more importantly, help out your clients.

Dr. Lane P.: Thank you for joining me.