The Value of Values
Posted on 27th July 2021 at 19:41
“What are your values?” is a frequent question in job interviews and for those that have not reflected on this, it can be a challenging question to answer in the heat of the moment. Values are our strong beliefs and principles that influence our attitudes and behavior. We generally have ethical or moral values, religious and political values, social and aesthetic values. We have cause to reflect on our values at key moments in our lives. We look to our values when making difficult decisions around relationships, career, workplace and family. It’s a good place to start and helps guide us in working out a solution or reaching a decision. Many people are reluctant to leave careers they are unhappy in if the salary is good, as they value financial security more. Where there has been infidelity in marriage, the issue of trust is less important if marital, financial or social status is valued more. Core values exist, such as the wellbeing of family or the respect for human dignity. As parents, we like to feel we pass on our values to our children. While important values tend to be enduring, they can change throughout life as we mature and move through life stages and as a result of life experiences.
Values are integral to mental life. We have all internalised value systems, which are often centred around our ego ideal (what we believe is right or how we would like to be ourselves). How our thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and values are influenced by unconscious mental processes is central to psychoanalytic psychotherapy. [1,2] In therapy, the therapist values the health, development and autonomy of the patient or client. Bound by an ethical framework, they must value respect for the individual and avoid doing harm. On occasion, psychotherapists are compelled to make distinct moral choices such as between maintaining confidentiality and protecting the client and others from harm. It is reasonable to expect that therapeutic effectiveness may depend on a degree of similarity between the client’s values and those of the therapist. As the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s thinking very much focused on the expression of truth. Psychoanalysis strives to uncover the truth about the nature of the psyche and its development. However, an essential component of the technique of psychoanalytical psychotherapy is the suspension of judgment and the creation of an atmosphere of acceptance. A balance must be struck between facilitating a working relationship based on trust (including the recognition that certain values are shared) and the need for cautious reserve if unconscious feelings are to unfold in the service of nurturing autonomy in the patient or client. As an example, individuals seeking therapy may choose a therapist of the same gender or from the same culture as themselves. However, if that therapist verbalises very specific beliefs around religion, marriage or family planning issues, this would be an imposition on the process and may hinder rather than help the client. 
No cultural pursuit is value free. Science for example, is influenced by the concerns of society. It values objective knowledge which is fundamental to its pursuit. Medicine, has its basis in science and is constantly challenged with questions of value and ethics such as abortion, euthanasia and eligibility for costly treatments such as transplant surgery irrespective of lifestyle. [2,3] Oscar Wilde’s famous definition of a cynic was one that “knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing” and certainly reflects an obsession with cost(s) above all else. This may be particularly prominent in businesses. The more recent focus on ‘company values’ helps to convey meaning and integrity particularly around cultural issues of the workplace. Employees like to feel valued and motivated and when they are, a business gets their best performance in return and thus value for money.
A very obvious value that surprisingly does not always occur to people is that of physical and mental health and investing in it. In theory, it should be at the top of everyone’s list of values. Without either, we are hindered, if not completely thwarted, in what we can do. If you need help with a mental health concern, with an acceptance of a physical one, or indeed with figuring out your values, get in touch here.
1. Michel, R. M.D. & Oldham, J.M. (1983) Value judgments in psychoanalytic theory and practice. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 3(4): 599-608.
2. Person, E.S. (1983) The influence of values in psychoanalysis: The case of female psychology. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 3(4): 623-646
3. Holmes, J (1996) Values in Psychotherapy. Am. J. Psychotherapy 50(3): 259-273
4. Proud, T. Do you know the price of everything – but the value of nothing? https://www.purplecubed.com/do-you-know-the-price-of-everything-but-the-value-of-nothing/
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