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Values Clarification


One of my favorite courses in social work school was called Values Clarification (or something similar). Most people have never heard of the topic. Neither had I. But it’s a crucial life skill in understanding yourself and your place in the world.

Good Therapy defines values clarification as “a psychotherapy technique that can often help an individual increase awareness of any values that may have a bearing on lifestyle decisions and actions. This technique can provide an opportunity for a person to reflect on personal moral dilemmas and allow for values to be analyzed and clarified. This process may be helpful for self-improvement, increased well-being, and interactions with others.” An understatement of its usefulness, in my humble opinion.

Values come up all the time in and out of therapy, but we don’t generally call them that. Instead, we say: my beliefs are, I think that, what’s right (or wrong) is. When we exclaim, “How can he say that?” we’re questioning someone’s underlying values because we’re really wondering how he can think that. When we talk about motivations, ours or others, we’re talking about our core values that make us do this rather than that. 

I was deep in discussion with a client who asked me, “How do I know that what I think and believe is right?” which is what got me thinking about the subject of values and writing this blog. We base what we think and do on our values. Essentially, we need to know what we value and if it’s okay to value those things. The answer isn’t as easy as it might seem because the response to whether or not it’s okay to value something—drum roll, please—depends on your values. 

Do you value convenience, hard work, material things, fame, ethics, nature, people, yourself, this earth, truth, justice, diversity, authority, free will, equality, social approval, intelligence, creativity, curiosity, certainty, order, freedom, love, fairness, security, power with or over, wealth, beauty, status, piety, kindness, individualism—I could go on and on. Whichever values you hold as dear to your heart and above others underpins who you are—your essence and how you view and act in the world. 

If you’re looking to heal or change and haven’t explored your values, it’s time to retrace your steps. There are books and articles you can read and tests you can find online that will help you identify and sort out your values. When you’re clearer about them, you won’t constantly worry about whether what you’re doing is right or wrong (but you’ll still wonder). You’ll know who you are and your thoughts and actions will be in sync with your values, which will help you feel whole, confident, and perhaps even content.