I sometimes use writing assignments with clients. I have two in particular I assign, which seem to be very helpful for women with depression and anxiety issues.
The first is borrowed from a goal-planning book by Barbara Sher (Wishcraft): it consists of telling the client to complain, as negatively and unconstructively as possible, to whine, bitch, kvetch and be completely unreasonable. Sometimes we do this verbally in the sessions, and my role then is to encourage her to complain. "yeah!, its awful!" etc... This is an enormous relief for people who feel that they "shouldn't feel" exactly the way they do, in fact, feel. I often observe their energy and affect lift considerably and they often end up laughing, and report feeling better and less ashamed. Sometimes clients will write their complaints on large pieces of newsprint. I had one client who filled ten of these! At home, sometimes after a warm-up like this in the session, they do it on paper, and are not to problem-solve at the same time.
The second exercise is to give them a sheet of paper with three concentric circles on it. In the outermost circle, they are to write the feelings and parts of themselves they share with aquaintances, the middle one, what they share with close friends/family, and the centre, what they share with no-one. They have the option of not sharing the completed paper with me. It is a good way for me too assess the level of shame about feelings, what might be the most difficult ones to explore, and what the clients support systems look like. It also provides an opportunity for the client to make a choice to begin sharing that inner circle with me.
I find giving 'home assignments' to be very effective in giving clients the sense of being active in their own healing outside of the sessions, and feeling supported in doing so.
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