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The role of our personal values in a counseling relationship

Posted Jul 31 2010 12:00am 2 Comments

The role of our personal values in a counseling relationship is a challenging ethical concept.  Even the most well intentioned and cautious clinician will be influenced, even inadvertently, by his or her values.  Imposing our own values on a client is a treacherous proposition, and it risks compromising our objectivity.  Some relativists would argue that such objectivity is an illusion, and that it is wholly unobtainable.

Initially, I am not entirely sure I saw a conflict with exposing my values (without imposing them on the client).  After additional reflection, I am not sure that I am entirely comfortable exposing my values during the course of the interview process.  Perception is reality, and I would have no control over the client’s interpretation of the values that were exposed.  Despite my best efforts and good intentions, exposing my values would open a number of different variables that could be counterproductive to the interview process.

For example, if my values differed greatly from those of my client, I could risk alienating the client to the degree that they may come to the conclusion that our values differ too much to continue the counseling relationship.  The end result is a referral at best, or the client ceasing to pursue psychotherapy as a treatment method all together.

It’s your turn!  I am seeking out strategies I can employ that will help me contain the potential damage associated with exposing my underlying core values.  How much does your therapist share with you?

I would like to learn to avoid comparing and contrasting client values with my own.  This is an overwhelming task given that I have a natural inclination to establish rapport by doing just that.  Does your therapist compare and contrast their values with yours?

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Comments (2)
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That's rough. I've had negative feedback and political retaliation for letting my ethical positions be known to faculty and peers, even in the grad level classroom. In fact, the ADF has defended students for being dismissed over such issues! It seems like one is demanded by the APA to either remain silent, compromise one's ethics/values, and go with their dictates - liberal and secular only, thanks - or be blackballed.

I have had bad experiences as a client because of this anti-morality bias, since clinicians are predisposed to see a conservative as having "unevolved" thinking, or poor social skills. In some cases they have been taught to try and change the client (!_) ex: to be actively involved as a feminist, not traditional. Yet, if I disclosed an ethical difficulty with their choices, I could not transfer them for better support. I have to be quiet and act as if I support them - say, having a 4th abortion of convenience. Nor may I declare by clinical worldview since it may "be rejecting" to some. As if clients cannto tell when therapists are in agreement or lying to them indirectly. Bad politics. Very bad. Creating a schism of secular left versus conservative right, which is it were racially driven, would be labeled hate speech, etc.Go with the agency climate if you can live with it. My therapists disclosed little, so I knew why they were unable to help me - no faith basis, or no value of my faith. Either way.

In cases where you find yourself unable to serve a client without personal bias getting in the way - it's probably a good time to ask yourself "is a referral in order?"  Just my 2c.  Thoughts?
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