When Assigning Homework, Make Sure Your Counselee Gets Off the Couch

The process of change is detailed in Ephesians 4:22-24, and then even more vividly displayed in verse 28. A common question that is asked in counseling training is, “When is a thief no longer a thief?” Having studied the passage carefully, a careful observer will notice it is not just when the thief stops stealing, but when he works with his hands in order to have something to give.

These passages serve as some of the core influences in the sanctification methodology as well as the end goal of counseling. We start by putting off the old man: its wants, its desires, its actions. Then, we renew the mind with the truth of God’s word. We memorize passages, study new concepts, we learn to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8). Then, the passage tells us to put on the new man which is like Christ.

It is right at this point, when we are told to put on the new man, that so much of the homework in the counseling world begins to fall short. Counselees are assigned scriptures to read, passages to memorize, journaling assignments to complete, and books to learn from. However, in all of these homework assignments, the focus on the cognitive aspects of the person dominates the homework.

This dynamic of more cognitive-based homework is especially true in western society and for those who have received higher education. So much of our lives is spent in the realms of thinking, and rightly so. Christianity is a thinking person’s religion, and the church will only be served by Christians being more and more thoughtful, not less.

However, when it comes to the process of change, being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, we must also engage the volitional aspects of personhood. Or, to say it a bit simpler: we need to make sure our counselee has to get off the couch in order to do their homework. If they can complete all the assignments that you have given them as part of their growth and change process from the comfort of their lazy boy recliner, then we have not addressed all the requisite aspects of change that will be necessary.

There must be a delicate balance that is achieved between homework that is focused on doing and homework that is focused on renewing the hearts of our counselees. Each case with each person will look different. However, there must be evidence of growth across all areas of our counselee, and not just in the arena of the mind. Consider these examples of how you might sharpen your homework writing skills to better serve your counselees:

  • Scripture memorization. Instead of just assigning, “Memorize 1 Cor. 10:13-14.” Choose to put action into your memorization. “Memorize 1 Cor. 10:13-14 and come with four examples of when you fled temptation. Before temptation even comes, plan a way of escape from your situation and have that plan ready. Make sure you share your plan with your accountability partner.”
  • Read a book. Instead of just assigning a chapter, “Read Chapter 1 in Biblical Manhood and come ready to discuss”, get them ready to live out the principles they learned. “Read Chapter 1 in Biblical Manhood by Wednesday. Then, come with three examples, written on paper, in which you intentionally applied at least one of the principles in the chapter. Also, come ready to discuss the other contents.”
  • Listen to this sermon/resource. Instead of just having them listen to a sermon or lecture, again, assign them practical steps to take. “After listening to the Four Rules of Communication, sit down on Sunday and have a Conference Table. Wife, take notes, Husband leads the time. Come ready to share in detail how you used these principles this week at least four times to have communication that is in-line with the Bible.”

Let’s make sure that we are helping our counselees be doers of the word and not just hearers (Jas. 1:22). Let’s make sure that we are following the Bible in its process of change and not just parking on renewing our mind. Let’s ask ourselves when we are done writing homework for a session, does my counselee need to get off the couch to do my homework?  If the answer to that is “No”, then let’s take another pass at the homework!

Photo by Paul Weaver on Unsplash

Joshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science (2008) and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM in Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries, the Chaplin of the West Lafayette Fire Department, an instructor with Faith Bible Seminary, and a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). He is married to his wife Shana, and they have four children together.