Check your values - What are Values in ACT?
Values are a centerpiece in ACT. So much so that the entire therapy is designed to promote a life that is connected and consistent with values rather than one simply devoid of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Engaging with values isn't "the next step" or the last thing done in a course of therapy, rather valuing is the therapy itself in large part. There are some helpful skills that once learned make that process easier, but what sometimes gets overlooked are the skills that go into clarifying values and valuing as actions in and of themselves.
To help with this we want to clearly define what we mean by values and valuing. Here are a series of definitions that I use from simple to complex:
Values are the things that make life valuable.
Simple enough right? Our values are those things that when added to our life make our life more valuable.
Values are the qualities that make life valuable.
The word qualities here clarifies that we don't mean just any old nouns that make life valuable, but qualities.
Values are qualities that can be embodied that make life valuable.
Now we are getting some action involved. When we say values we don't just mean things or qualities but qualities that can be embodied, and which are unique to the individual.
Values are qualities that can be embodied which make life meaningful and important.
Let's get rid of that circular definition of values and valuable. When we say valuable, what we mean is meaningful and important. Or what fills life with meaning.
Values are qualities that I can embody, which make my life meaningful and important.
Here we go. Values are not things, nor are they static, but rather they can be embodied; and equally importantly they can be chosen, and to embody them at any given time is also a choice.
The process of moving from that first definition to the final one is a rich experience that can be done deliberately in and out of session with clients.
If you feel like you're missing that Values piece of the hexaflex, ask yourself the following few questions:
How have I been talking about values with my client? Have I mentioned them offhandedly? Have I defined them well?
How central are values and valuing been in my current work with my clients? Do I have a good sense of some of their chosen values? If I don't, why don't I?
How many skills have been built in the service of discovering, exploring, and processing values? Noticing values out in the wild is a skill that can be trained. Am I assuming that my clients all have a similar ability to identify values in the wild? What skills may be lacking for my clients?
How much skill do I have in noticing, exploring, experiencing, and choosing my own values? How did I learn those skills? How have I intentionally put them to use? Have I put them intentionally into use?