Values; we all have them, but how often do we talk about them, or consider the role they play in our lives?
Values can be defined as, “verbally constructed, global, desired, and chosen life directions” (Dahl, Wilson, Luciano, & Hayes, 2005). Our values can be related to various aspects of our lives; our work, our families, our relationships, and more. Values are what re-energize us and when we live in line with our values, this is when we feel the most satisfied. From this definition, it follows that if our lives or aspects of our lives aren’t going quite the way we would like them to, it may be partially the result of not staying true to our values, or experiencing some confusion or conflict over what these values actually are.
This is where values clarification comes in. As it sounds, values clarification is a therapeutic intervention that helps clients to establish what their core values are so that they can live a life that is in line with these values.
There are many different exercises that may be used to help one clarify their values. At its most basic, values clarification involves simply discussing your values to help elucidate what they are. You may be asked to complete something called a, “values card sort” in which you are given a set of cards representing a selection of values and are asked to rank them in order of which are most important to you. It’s often useful to group these values into different domains, such as career, family, and personal life. Oftentimes conflicts arise when there are inconsistencies, or consistencies, in values across two or more domains. For example, high achievement in life and work can mean that an individual may struggle to keep up with this value. Another way to categorize values is to label whose values they actually are. Sometimes we hold values that we don’t necessarily believe in or agree with, but have been passed onto us from others. If you’re questioning any of your values, it may be useful to consider if they are actually yours or someone else’s.
It is also important to distinguish between values and goals. Whereas goals are something that you can set and strive to achieve, values are more overarching. You cannot set a value, but you can choose a goal that is either consistent or inconsistent with your values. For example, you may very much value your family, but set demanding career goals that do not allow you any time to spend with your loved ones. This is a case of value-inconsistent action, and can cause conflict because the two domains of your life are at odds. The over-simplified solution would be to rearrange your career goals to be more in line with your family values, in order to lead a more value-consistent life.
Values clarification applies to many different forms of counselling. It is very relevant for career counselling, whether you are choosing your first career or looking for a career switch because you realize that your current career no longer aligns with your values. Values also apply to individual counselling about concerns such as anxiety and depression. Failing to live in line with your values may contribute to or result in the symptoms you experience. It can be useful to consider the life you want to live in order to determine what changes you’d like to make to achieve it. Finally, values are incredibly relevant to couples counselling. Conflict can arise when two people have separate values. Talking about these differences in values can help to get a couple back on the same page.
Next time you find yourself asking questions like, “what do I want to do in this situation?” or, “is this the kind of life I want to live?” try tuning into your values. Clarifying them is often the first step to getting the answers you are looking for.
Dahl, J. C., Wilson, K. G., Luciano, C. & Hayes, S. C. (2005). Acceptance and commitment therapy for chronic pain. Reno, NV: Context Press.