How can less homework between sessions actually help a client progress faster?

By Rick Hanson, PhD

I think therapists sometimes ask too much from their clients—I know I do. We might ask them to tune into their feelings before they have enough internalized resources to do so without alarm, or ask them to change an action before they’re ready, or simply ask them to think about way too much between sessions.

When we ask too much of them, our clients can then feel failure, guilt, or resentment. These feelings, in turn, make them more likely to step back in therapy or even drop out of it.

So, I love the idea of just one thing for a client to think about or do between sessions.

Of course, first it needs to be all right with the client to do things between sessions. Then I’ve found it’s usually easy and in the flow of therapy to mention one of these:

  • A theme for reflection, such as the normalcy of longing for love

  • A character strength, such as the client’s capacity for patience, kindness, or insight

  • A practice, such as deepening mindfulness, taking in the good, relaxing the body, challenging pessimistic thoughts, or noticing that in this moment you are alright, right now.

In my experience, clients express a range of commitment to trying this out, which is totally fine. Then, at the next session, I may follow up to see what happened.

It’s the law of little things: small steps add up over time to heal and nurture our clients.

Buddha's BrainRick Hanson, PhD is a neuropsychologist, meditation teacher, and the author of several books, including Buddha's Brain and Just One Thing. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, Dr. Hanson is a trustee of Saybrook University. He also served on the board of Spirit Rock Meditation Center for nine years, and was President of the Board of FamilyWorks, a community agency. In addition, he cofounded the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and edits the Wise Brain Bulletin. He and his wife have two children.


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