Homework in Psychotherapy: Its Purpose and Benefits

Homework increases the involvement and autonomy of the patient, reducing the duration of the therapy and optimizing its effectiveness. Discover the importance of these exercises between sessions.
Homework in Psychotherapy: Its Purpose and Benefits
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 20 March, 2023

If you’ve never been to a psychologist, you might not know that they often schedule homework. On the other hand, if you’ve undergone psychotherapy, it may have seemed strange to you to have to comply with these exercises. In fact, it might even have seemed unfair to you to have to spend time outside of the session to continue working on your own. However, these activities are extremely important in the overall process.

That said, not all professionals schedule homework and each kind of psychotherapy has its own procedures. One type of therapy that does frequently schedule homework is the cognitive-behavioral kind. This therapy has been evidenced as an effective intervention for many mental disorders. We’re going to explain the kind of homework that therapists give and what purposes it serves.

man in psychotherapy
Homework helps streamline the therapy process.

Homework in psychotherapy

These are a series of activities or exercises that the psychologist designs and proposes to the client to carry out between sessions. These tasks gradually increase in difficulty and, to a certain extent, guide the therapeutic process. In fact, the therapist will often dedicate the first few minutes of every session to reviewing the exercises. Then, they continue the session based on the information the client has provided.

Both patient and the therapist agree on the scheduled tasks. The patient gradually involves themselves in them as the sessions progress. Moreover, they collaborate in the design of the homework and adapt them to their particular situation. The therapist doesn’t impose them. Nor should the patient view them as the kind of homework given at school. In effect, they’re simply suggestions that help speed up and optimize the therapy and recovery process.

Depending on the stage of therapy, these homework tasks fulfill different purposes. For example, at the beginning of psychotherapy, they help the therapist establish a baseline and better understand what the client thinks, feels, and does, in what contexts, and for what reasons. During the process, homework allows them to practice and internalize the advances they’ve made. While, toward the end, these tasks mainly seek to prevent relapse and strengthen any changes.

The types of homework

The therapist might propose different tasks to complement the work done in consultation. It all depends on the problem to be worked on and the particular needs of the client. Some of the most common homework tasks are as follows:


This is one of the most useful tools. It allows for the detection, identification, and understanding of problematic behaviors or cognitions, in order to later work on them. Self-monitoring is frequently used, in which the patient writes down the frequency of certain events. For example, their thoughts and the context that surrounds them.

Occasionally, someone close to them might also be asked to collaborate and become involved in this process. For instance, when it comes to nervous habits, it can be difficult for the patient to recognize when they’re carrying them out.

Introspection and self-knowledge

If a client wishes to become involved in their psychotherapy process, they must be open to knowing, understanding, and exploring parts of their inner world that they may have previously overlooked. That’s because the therapist might ask them to reflect on a particular person, situation, or event and write down their impressions and feelings about it/them.

As a matter of fact, writing is tremendously therapeutic. It allows the client to organize their ideas and let out their complicated emotions, making it a powerful exercise.

Bibliotherapy and cinema therapy

Written and audiovisual material can also be a good complement as it allows the client to change the perspective with which they look at a problem, learn more about it, or acquire new skills.

Therefore, as homework, the therapist might suggest the client reads a book or certain chapter of one, or watch a movie in a conscious and committed way. In the subsequent session, they share their reactions and impressions and work on this material.

Practical exercises

Finally, different exercises can also be programmed to practice certain coping skills or strategies. For example, the therapist may tell the client to practice breathing and relaxation exercises on a regular basis. Alternatively, they might ask them to put certain assertive techniques into practice that they’ve learned in consultation.

The therapist might recommend exposure to certain situations to be carried out between sessions in the treatment of various anxiety disorders.

Woman doing deep breath
Breathing and relaxation exercises are extremely common as homework in psychological therapy.

The importance and usefulness of homework

These tasks are as important as the work done in consultation. Indeed, complying with them allows the client to obtain various benefits:

  • They help them improve their understanding of their situation and the problem to be worked on.
  • They allow them to obtain more accurate and reliable information about their problematic cognitions and behaviors.
  • They’re extremely useful for practicing skills and consolidating new ways of proceeding.
  • They allow the treatment to be shortened and made more effective.
  • They favor the client’s autonomy. This makes them capable of progressing and managing themselves without depending on the therapist.

Despite these benefits, occasionally, some clients demonstrate resistance to performing certain tasks or exercises. This could denote a lack of commitment to the process. Or, they may have doubts about the tasks themselves or their high degree of complexity.

Therefore, it’s important that both client and therapist work together. This helps them increase their motivation, understand the importance of any homework, and be able to get the most out of it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.