Clarifying Values

by Judy Harrow

Another important thing for the client to understand before making any decisions is what s/he values and how these values affect behavior. By clarifying what we hear a client thinking and saying about what s/he values, we may help her/him understand what is really important to her/him.

It's important to understand the difference between attitudes and values. Attitudes are general opinions and beliefs. They can provide important clues about how a person thinks and feels. But it is possible to hold many different attitudes at once, even some that are contradictory. In the situations of real life, we set priorities and make choices. Values are about how we resolve contradictions and what we do first when we know we can't do everything.

Counselors and educators have their professional jargon. One phrase you'll often hear is "values clarification." All that means is making clear to ourselves, (or helping our clients make clear to themselves) what we hold important and what priorities we set. There are several steps in the process of values clarification. They are:

Prizing one's beliefs and behaviors

1. prizing and cherishing
2. publicly affirming, when appropriate

Choosing one's beliefs and behaviors

3. choosing from alternatives, and within limits

4. choosing after consideration of probable results

5. choosing freely

Acting on one's beliefs

6. acting
7. acting consistently

The counselor's role, as always, is to try to understand what the client is saying (thinking, feeling) about his/her world, this time in terms of what is more or less important to her/him. Most importantly, our job is to help our clients understand what is really important to them, to make well-considered choices, and to fulfill those choices through behavior. For this, we can use the same active listening and reflection techniques we use to facilitate any kind of self-exploration, as well as exercises designed specifically for the purpose. One excellent source for such exercises is Values Clarification, by Sidney B. Simon et al , (1972).

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    Contents of this page are copyright © 1996, 1999, 2001 by Judy Harrow.