Ethics and Psychotherapy – 4


In Chapter 5 Tjeltveit takes on the issues related to ways people understand “values.” He says, “We need to move beyond recognizing that ‘Therapy is not value-free’ to a well-developed understanding of the ways in which it is value-laden.” (p. 83).He then unpacks a few approaches (from pp. 84-85):

  • values as psychological (e.g., when Skinner defines something as good based on how much reinforcement it provides; it simply describes what is valued)
  • values as ethical (e.g., what ought to be  valued rather than merely an account of what is desired)
  • values as a means by which the powerful impose their will on the weak (an assertion, really, by those in power)
  • values as choices (to be a genuine, authentic value is to have been chosen freely)
  • values as authentic expressions of an individual’s nature (self-actualization)
  • values as cultural and historical (context-specific)

For reflection: What is your definition of values? How might one’s definition influence one’s clinical practice? Can definitions (of values) be matched with specific purposes?

5 thoughts on “Ethics and Psychotherapy – 4

  1. I honestly have never thought about my definition of values before reading this chapter. Through reading, I can easily see the validity of each definition. I feel that depending on the circumstance and period in my life my definition of values could have fallen under any of these definitions. I think in clinical practice it becomes especially important to be aware of the different definitions of values that I hold and that my clients may hold. Without this awareness I could lose an important way to understand and connect with my clients. I would be more likely to unconsciously impose my values onto the client and if the client had values that I did not recognize to be values then I could fall into the trap of disregarding his or her values an unimportant or naïve. By doing this I would not adequately address the struggles he or she came to find help with and would be doing a disservice to the client.
    Values can be matched for specific purposes. A great example in the chapter talks about matching the client’s use of values, at least at the beginning stages of therapy. This would be important in the development of rapport and establishment of the therapeutic relationship. I think that having the flexibility to be able to look at different values and ways to define them helps to provide greater insight into clients’ lives and not just quickly disregard things because they do not fit into the definition one views as most pertinent.

  2. It is not something I had thought a great deal about either. I may have had more of a “common sense” understanding of values, but Tjeltveit really unpacks the many ways values can be understood.

    As for the suggestion to match the client’s use of values, I thought that was interesting, too. It reminds me of discussions of multiple uses of self in therapy – so that a therapist is capable of using themselves in many different ways. That kind of flexibility, when applied to different ways values might be discussed, may aid in joining and may be a discipline for the therapist who wants to remind him/herself to think in these terms.

  3. I was also struck by the many ways that values can be defined, but as I read them, I was able to draw from seasons in my own life when I expressed my values differently. For example, on first take, I felt that using values as, “a means to impose ones will” seemed manipulative, but then I realized that I operate under this assumption when I am being a responsible parent.

    In terms of being a psychologist, I found the definitions to be somewhat one-dimensional, until Tjeltveit got to his explanation of context. It seems to me that no matter how steadfast one is in their beliefs, events can occur that make one question their values, or even change them. For example, ones values concerning the sanctity of life could be altered in the case of rape.

    I really connected with the concept of cultural and historical values. I believe that as a clinician, this is the area in which I will be able to glean the most from my clients in regards to how they develop and live out their values. As a therapist it will be crucial for me to understand how the context influences my clients experience of their problems, so that I may join with them from their frame.

  4. I was struck by the cultural and historical values, too. That seems like a good starting point with clients, at least insofar as a therapist can explore how values exist within a cultural and historical context in that person’s life.

  5. I have been thinking about the importance that is placed on cultural awareness and understanding diversity issues in clinical practice. Tjeltveit asserts that part of what forms our value system is the culture that we are a part of. It seems to give a new name to the diversity issues that we may face as clinicians. We often learn that a person’s culture shapes his or her decisions. In fact, I have found myself guilty of attributing differences in others to a cultural aspect. However, Tjeltveit believes that it is not culture that informs one decisions, rather culture influences one’s values and one’s values informs his or her decisions. I wonder if cultural sesitivity could be easier to attain if I could step aside from my own values and allow myself to live for a moment in the values of my client. Not that this would means taking on that person’s values as my own. This would simply mean that I could show the greatest level of acceptance possible regardless of the person’s current situation, culture, or values.

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