And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Overview of Biblical Counseling Part 5 Homework

The Role of homework in counseling

            As mentioned above, homework is essential in counseling.  It is the connection between counselor and counselee that works to provide data and a regimen of working through problems.  Counselees do homework as a means of moving beyond their habitual problems to live victoriously in Christ. We seek to change habit patterns with a practical application of scripture for homework.  As the process progresses, counselees will be given a structured plan of homework that is tailored to their problem.

            Data gathering is the main function of homework for the counselor.  It is not the sole means, but it drives the counseling sessions.  Counselors will review homework for a clue to habits, changes, and progress in the counselee.  It is by means of successful victories, evidenced in homework, that the counselor will know when to let the counselee discontinue regular counseling sessions.

            The most essential piece of homework for the second session is the Personal Data Inventory (PDI).[1]  This homework form is an extensive questionnaire of the thoughts, background, habits, concerns, life situations, and past counseling history of the counselee.  Upon completion of the PDI the counselor reviews each answer with the disciple during the second session in order to gain a clear understanding of why the counselee is attending counseling.  He also uses this as a time for the answers to be expounded upon, probing for more details. This is essential to the progress of the future sessions.  The PDI often reveals core issues that are deeper than symptoms that the counselee may believe they need to address.

Because there are certain physiological conditions that may affect behavior, the counselor should also assign the Health History Questionnaire as homework in the initial session.  It is essential that the counselor investigate physiological conditions that could be the cause of improper behavior. This is intended to gather data that will help the counselor know if a person has had thyroid or diabetic problems or other conditions that may influence their abilities.  It will also reveal what medicines they are taking.  This is important as some medications have behavior altering side effects.

 Another critical piece in solving problems for counselees is dealing with the stigma of labels assigned to them from psychologists.  For example, a person who believes that they are bipolar may blame mental illness for their actions and thusly attempt to solve their failures through pills rather than accepting responsibility for sin.  We may find situations where we will have to discuss the diagnosis of mental illness and psychological labels and how they are often assigned.  This is in contrast to verifiable data and to biblical teaching.  We must be very careful when discussing medications with clients.  Only a trained physician should recommend or change prescriptions for a counselee.

For the counselor, the homework assignments are designed to find information about habits and thoughts that must be understood.  When a counselor is not completely sure of a pattern, motive, situation, or cause of a person’s behavior then they should assign specified homework.  This may include assignments regarding marriage failures, personal habits, personal struggles, and interpretation of scriptures.  Constantly there are new and improving assignments developing for data gathering.  Biblical counselors need to be continuing their education in order to be aware of these advances.

            The second role of homework is for the direct benefit of the counselee.  Whereas the counselee and counselor meet only once a week, homework fills the void with daily assignments that cause the counselee to think about and understand the problems and solutions relevant to their needs.  Just as we daily need God and not just on Sunday, homework brings to practice the presence of God on a daily basis.

Homework is to help a counselee to begin with action for change, even when they do not have the emotional feeling to do so.  The changing of habits is rarely enjoyable or easy at the beginning. Thus the counselor uses homework to motivate and direct a counselee to do that which is necessary to begin new character traits. 

            Through Paul’s admonitions to put off and put on, counselors seek to create patterns of behavior that accentuate this truth.[2]  A homework assignment for an angry wife may be to daily perform and record three acts of love for her husband.  This puts into motion proper behavior.  As the sessions continue the emotional character of love and forgiveness will follow.

            Homework also helps in renewing the mind.  As James commanded us to “receive the word implanted”, we are to be “hiding the word in our hearts”, that we would not sin.[3]  Homework is designed to help the counselee think godly thoughts.  Here God softens the heart and brings truth to fruition.  The homework serves to become a constant prompter to follow the ways of God.  Without mind renewing homework the counselee will never take to heart the truth that sets them free.

[1] I say second session as usually the first session is reserved for explaining the nature of Biblical counseling and the requirements of the counselee to honor God, do what God says, and to complete the homework.  The counselee takes the PDI home and returns it prior to the scheduling of a second session as a way of signifying commitment to biblical counseling.
[2] Eph 4:24, Col 3:10
[3] James 1:21, Psalm 119:109

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