Q: How important is homework for couples in therapy, and how do I motivate them to do it?
A:Let me start with a case example. As they entered my office and sat on the couch, Robin and Jim looked like children dragged into the principal’s office. They hadn’t followed through on their commitment to do the therapeutic exercises between sessions I’d recommended for them. They weren’t defensive or blaming each other, just disappointed that yet again they hadn’t done their part to move therapy forward in this way.
“Listen,” I said with a smile. “You’re not the only clients who struggle to get homework done. In fact, part of the point of asking you to do homework is to help you learn to change routines and behaviors on your own. My wife and I have been doing these homework exercises for decades. They work really well to help us strengthen our relationship, and we still have long lapses where we can’t find the time to do them. So how about I offer you my carrot-and-stick approach?” They looked intrigued.
“Here’s the deal,” I continued. “If you do your homework as agreed on, I’ll give you the next session for free. That’s the carrot—and the added bonus is more success in therapy. But if you don’t, then in addition to paying for the next session, you’ll have to give an equal amount of money to my favorite charity. That’s the stick.”
Robin immediately turned to Jim and exclaimed, “A free session! We can do this!” And indeed…