Homework is one of the key components to good biblical counseling. It is also one of the hardest elements to master. The short answer to the question is “no.” The reason homework does not start small and grow is because the amount of homework is not the key issue. We do not assign our counselees to make them busy; we assign homework to help them put into practice what we have taught. Two well written assignments can be much more effective than six or seven assignments that are poorly written. Let me identify a few of the most common homework mistakes that counselors make.
#1: The homework has nothing to do with the focus of the session.
As a counseling session progresses it should become more and more focused. In other words, the counseling session is about “one thing” rather than about everything. Yet, some counselors do an excellent job of narrowing the session to a really important subject and then they give homework that is completely unrelated. For example, lets pretend that the counseling focused on the husband’s anger. The counselor showed how sinful anger was not living worthy of the gospel, not serving Christ, and not bringing about the righteousness of God. Then for homework assigns the counselee to “read the Bible everyday” and “to write out the 4 ways he thinks he could love his wife.” While these assignments might be appropriate in some contexts, they are certainly not appropriate in this one. Our homework must be more focused. A much better set of assignments might be “Put James 1:19 on an index card and review 5x each day this week and write out 3 x this week how this verse helped you exercise the service of Christ rather than the service of your anger” along with “Please write a paragraph explaining how Christ chose to deal with the challenges of the cross and how that helps him deal with the challenges that are occasions for the counselee’s anger.” In other words, we are writing assignments that deal with anger because that is what the session was about.
#2: The homework is not very specific and thus the counselee does not understand what to do.
A second common mistake is writing assignments that are too general. “Read the Bible” is a pretty general comment and it lacks the kind of specificity that counseling demands. Of course, reading plans are perfectly acceptable assignments in church preaching/teaching settings, but counseling is much more focused and intentional. So should be the assignments. If your counselee is confused about what to do that probably means you did not write homework that made it easy for them to understand.
There are other potential problems, but counselors who learn to write two to three A+ homework assignments will see growth throughout the case. Those who write homework, regardless of how many assignments, in an unfocused fashion may see little progress through the case.