In last month’s blog, Launching Pad, I returned to five themes I had previously discussed on this blog over the years that included mind, meaning making, thought/action, finitude/humility, and worldview. To this list of five themes I added a sixth that I call valuation. I will focus on that sixth theme in this month’s blog. Valuation in counseling involves the work that clients do when they seek to clarify their core beliefs and values. Having clarified as best they can their core values, then the work of counseling for clients focuses on what their lives will look like day-to-day as they choose to live in alignment with their chosen values.
Two Levels of Questions About Valuation
In their work, Motivational Interviewing, William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick provide a list of one hundred values that they use with clients for value exploration. Psychotherapists use the list in a variety of ways, but for the most part, therapists and clients approach the list as a card sort whereby clients rate their top five or top ten values. These top ratings then become grist for the mill in therapy sessions regarding clients’ valuations and what their valuations mean about how they go about engaging day-to-day life. If I claim to embrace a set of core values around which I will live my life, then what will my life look like when I in fact seek to live out those core values on a daily basis?. As I look into my life, am I in fact seeking to live out the values I claim to embrace? If not, what is preventing me from living out my stated values? Do I need clarity on the means by which I will pursue certain ends pertaining to my values?
Other questions at a deeper level come to mind around values exploration work. If consistently I’m finding that I’m not acting upon the values I purport to hold, then do I in fact truly hold such values? Perhaps I need to explore what truly are my core values. Valuations should lead us to act and live in certain ways that align with our proposed core values and beliefs. Values are both beliefs we hold and ends toward which we move. Our ways of living out our core values are the means by which we move toward our desired ends. Consequently, it is important that we are clear as to what our values in fact are. If we’re not, then the work of counseling begins there, in values clarification. If we claim to have clarity as to our purported values, then the work of counseling becomes about how we live out those values. Beyond the counseling room, how we live in alignment with our core values becomes the way we live out our lives. Living in alignment with our values becomes our life work.
This month’s blog will explore value exploration work when we are clear or somewhat clear on our values, but we’re not sure as to why we are not living out those values. Or perhaps, we are not clear as to the means by which we are to live out our purported values. Usually the major obstacle that prevents our living in alignment with our values is our own self.
I will resume this discussion with the first blog of 2020 (01/14/20) and explore the deeper work of values exploration in counseling when we are not even sure as to what our values are.
Values Exploration in the Counseling Room
What Stands in the Way?
In my work as a therapist, I utilize the list that Miller and Rollnick proffer in their book, Motivational Interviewing. The subtitle of their work is Helping People Change. I have no doubt that one of the major ways that people can bring about change in their lives is to explore what they truly believe and value. Such changes occur on several levels. If I have a good hold on what my values are, then I may enter counseling to seek help as to how to follow and live those values out. As a client, I might be dissatisfied with the way my life is going for the simple reason that I have a good idea that I’m not living the way I would fully like to live. I’m not seeing in my life the fruit that should come from the ideas, beliefs, and values that I hold. Such a personal realization might lead me to seek help, input, and feedback from people I trust, which might entail entering a therapeutic relationship with someone. At this stage of how I see things, my work in counseling most likely will entail looking at more fruitful ways that I can bring about the desired ends I seek for my life. That is, I will want to search out how I can best bring about the fulfillment of my values in the way I hope to live day-to-day.
As such my counseling work will involve searching out what exactly it is that stands in the way of my living out what I claim to value. There are several discoveries that can come from such work. One of the obstacles that might be in my way is I myself. If we truly want to step into our core beliefs and values and live fully the way we desire to live, many times such decisions involve taking risks and making changes that take us out of the comfort zone of where we merely settle for what we can gain out of life with the least amount of effort. Such a dynamic is something we have to recognize as being a part of human nature. We have to become aware that many times we settle for things simply because it’s easier to do so, or because settling entails less risk. Becoming aware of our human nature can help us decide if we want to change things. Such awareness brings on choice and responsibility. We can stay where we are, or we can choose a different path. The problem is that if we stay where we are, we are already aware that while it feels safer and easier, such a choice doesn’t bring the fulfillment we desire in our lives. One of the major obstacles in living out our values is our self. I have seen this time and time again in the counseling room, as well as in my own life.
What Changes Are Necessary?
Once we become aware that we are the thing that’s in our own way, then it becomes more clear as to what changes we need to make. Perhaps it’s that job that has grown stagnate even though it pays the rent, puts food on the table, and contributes to a savings account. Although we value such responsible actions, perhaps the weightiness of the lack of fulfillment related to the job is starting to outweigh the benefits the job provides. Values exploration also entails how we value the way we have to go about making changes. Transitions in life (see here and here) are an important and weighty experience for all of us. We don’t merely willy-nilly decide to make a major change in our lives without thought and a plan. But we do need to know and decide that in fact we want to make a change. Good sense and common sense can help us decide some legitimate ways to make our desired transitions.
Perhaps it’s a stagnate relationship that is weighing us down and preventing us from following out the goals we have set for our lives. Staying in a relationship simply out of comfort is one of the more common experiences I have seen in people who enter the counseling room. Likewise, not knowing how to instill life into a relationship is another common experience I encounter in clients. Of course, making changes in relationships involves more than just one person, but such exploration can become the work of counseling. Relationship changes are difficult. Such explorations and discoveries are some of the most difficult we encounter and try to make happen. Like anything else, such changes take courage, the willingness not to settle.
Countless other things can stand in the way of living out our values in a fulfilling way that require changes. Finances, where we live, how we balance work and leisure, spiritual beliefs, the pursuit of meaning and purpose are just a few of the areas we can explore in the counseling room or with trusted mentors. We first, however, must become aware of what stands in the way, particularly if we are the ones standing in our own way. And then, we must become clear on the desired changes that must take place if we seek to live in alignment with our stated values. What are the ends, and what are the means to reach those ends?
Before closing, I want to state emphatically that there is much more to this discussion. Yes, I can be in my own way, particularly not wanting to take risks or put forth the required effort to make changes in my life that align with my values and goals. And yes, I need to become clear on what the specific changes entail that I need to make in order to align with my values and goals. I need to be clear on the ends and the means to reach those ends.
But there is another caveat to this work of values exploration that emerges in counseling. What if I simply don’t know what in fact are my core values? What if I lack clarity as to what are my core values, and I don’t know how to go about discovering what they are? Perhaps I’m the obstacle in my way, not because I don’t want to risk, but because I simply don’t know what I believe in my core. Perhaps, like many of us, I have inculcated values I claim to hold, but they are truly not my core values. Perhaps I haven’t taken the time to question values I say I hold, and decide if they are in fact my values. What prevents me from living a fulfilled life is not the unwillingness to take a risk on certain values, but comes with the fact that I simply don’t know what I value. Such questions and realizations are another aspect of values exploration. It is the type of work that I thoroughly enjoy undertaking with clients. This second, and what I call a deeper type of work in values exploration, is what I will write about with the first blog of the New Year 2020.
Suffice it to say for now, individuals can have a clear picture of the values they hold, and the kind of life they want for themselves, but they are not sure what prevents them from getting to their desired ends. They need to be clear on the obstacles in the way and the means they must take to reach their desired ends. Such work is worthwhile and important work. And it can be fulfilling work, both for clients and for counselors.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/October 14th, 2019