Values Clarification for PTSD: Rationale and Key Concepts

By Sonja Batten, Ph.D.

This video is part of our upcoming online course about ACT for PTSD.

Highlights

  • When working with trauma survivors, it’s useful to provide a brief introduction to values.
  • Values clarification work focuses on identifying what the client wants out of life.
  • By identifying core values, the therapist and client will have a touchstone to remember what’s at stake.

 

Transcript

There’s no one right or wrong sequence for introducing ACT concepts and principles in the treatment of posttraumatic problems in living. But since I can’t teach you everything at once, I’m going to go ahead and describe one common way of using ACT with individuals who have experienced traumatic events.

Asking individuals to face the challenges and pain that their trauma histories have led to can be very difficult. And many clients express hesitance to engage in this work.

One method for beginning to ask the client to open up to the work is by introducing the concept of values first.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

The idea is that we’re not suggesting that the client delve into his or her own pain just for its own sake. But instead, we’re inviting them to do that as a way of moving through places where they may be stuck so that they can get closer to the life they want to have.
 
And this relates to the metaphor that I introduced in the previous module of moving through the swamp in order to get to the desired mountain on the other side.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

So, what we found is that working through values can be helpful as an initial piece of introductory work before diving into the more emotionally challenging components of ACT. And really having that values orientation serves as motivation for the hard work ahead.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

The ACT core process, described as values clarification, is about working with a client to determine what he wants his life to move toward, rather than away from. Values aren’t about whether certain choices are right or wrong or good or bad. Values are simply what we consider verbally construed descriptions of what is important to someone and where he or she wants to go in life.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Values, they’re seen as patterns of action that provide a sense of meaning and that can help coordinate our behavior over long timeframes. And they’re considered to be relatively stable orientations that are chosen purposefully by the individual and are not determined by feelings that may change from moment to moment.
Over the course of your life in general, although there may be some change, the type of person that you want to be and the things that are important to you are relatively stable. Values aren’t defined by fleeting thoughts or reactions about thoughts, feelings, memories.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

And everyone values something. Some clients may have such a long history of avoidance or punishment by other people for expressing their desires and preferences that they may have difficulty contacting their own values at first.
But within ACT, success is defined by living in accordance with your own values, not by achieving specific goals. So, it’s really important to help the client decide—well, not so much decide as get in contact with—what is really important to them, what are their individual values.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

And it’s important, in ACT, to distinguish between how we use the term values and how we use the term goals. You know, in regular conversation, you may use those terms interchangeably. But in ACT, each of those two terms has a specific meaning and usage. So, a value is seen as a general direction in which you want to head in your life, whereas a goal is a specific achievable outcome that you can target in service of a value.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

If you want to think about a simple way of telling the difference, a goal is something that can be written down on a list of things to accomplish and eventually scratched off when the goal is achieved. But a value is a direction that can never be fully attained. There’s always more to do.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

And there are multiple domains for values clarification. Some examples, but this is not an exhaustive list, are intimate relationships, friendships, family relationships, work, education, leisure activities, physical health, community, the environment, personal growth. People can come up with any domain they want to identify their values.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

From an ACT perspective, whether or not you have success in living is defined by the extent to which your choices and behaviors are coordinated over time in a way that promotes those values that you choose to see as important.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Value directions both direct and dignify the therapy. Each individual is able to mindfully choose the direction in which his life is headed.

And one of the really unique aspects of ACT is its focus on explicitly working with a client to identify value directions for life. And moving toward one’s values dignifies the hard work of willingness and committed action in the present moment.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

The ACT approach is inherently respectful of individual differences and begins with the assumption that each individual has the right to determine what is important to him or her. And that’s distinguished from the expectations of one’s culture or authority figures. It’s not for the therapist to say what’s right or wrong. It’s for the client to choose what is important to them.

References

Batten, S. V. (2011). Essentials of acceptance and commitment therapy. SAGE Publications Ltd.

So, to summarize the key points: Although many ACT protocols in books introduce values work later in the therapy process, when you’re working with trauma survivors, it’s sometimes useful to provide a brief introduction to the concept of values before diving into more emotionally challenging material.

Values clarification work focuses on helping the individual to identify what he or she really wants out of life and what areas are most important to the person as an individual, not defined by what other people or the culture would say should be important.

And by identifying a few core values that are important to the individual, the therapist and client will have a touchstone to help remember what is at stake as they begin more trauma-focused work.

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