Values Clarification

Values clarification offers a way to understand what is important to us and set a path to incorporate these values into our daily lives. Through values clarification, we can feel in-touch with our life’s meaning and a deeper sense of satisfaction within our daily routines.

What is values clarification?

Values clarification is a method of figuring out what your inner values are and how close you’re living to these values. Values describe a set of core beliefs that guide what we like, how we make decisions, who we engage with, and how we feel about ourselves. Some examples of values include:

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Service to others
  • Fairness
  • Healthy living
  • Humility

When we don’t live by our values, we create a dissonance between what we’re doing and what we want our lives to be about. Without being authentic, we end up unhappy, distressed, or disengaged.

Discovering and accepting your values can help you find your true self and make decisions that align with your beliefs. This clarity can guide you in setting goals and finding your purpose. If you have any uncertainty about what is best for you, turn to your values as a trusted advisor.

Symptoms of values clarification issues

When we lose sight of our values or aren’t practicing them in our daily lives, it can affect our mental health. Sometimes, it’s impossible to live by our values, even though we want to. An example of this is when we take a job that requires us to act in one way, even when we want to act in another way. This is called moral distress and can be extremely uncomfortable.

Having issues of values clarification can lead to:

  • Feelings of dissatisfaction
  • Burnout
  • Sadness or despair
  • Confusion, including identity confusion
  • Feeling disconnected from the self and others
  • Feeling stuck and not knowing how to make healthy change
  • Physical signs of stress including headaches, body aches, or an upset stomach
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to enjoy activities, including social activities

Therapy for values clarification

Therapists who specialize in values clarification help patients live by their values. First, therapists will start by educating clients about what values are and why they’re important to live by. They’ll then take clients through any number of values clarification exercises, including asking clients to name their core beliefs and rate how often they practice these core beliefs each day. Clients have the opportunity to process through their emotions around their daily routines or their big decisions, and how their values impacted these experiences.

What is a values clarification exercise?

A values clarification exercise is common in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps reveal hidden values that can aid decision-making and identity-finding. This exercise allows a therapist to better support you by understanding what you value. It focuses on your core beliefs, most prevalent choices, and crucial aspects to have in your life. It's like a magnifying glass for your values.

Values clarification exercises can help with identifying obstacles in various areas of life. For example, in a professional environment, questions can be asked about job satisfaction and direction. Regarding romantic relationships, exercises can explore what is healthy or unhealthy and where the relationship is headed. Life transitions can be navigated by examining goals, dreams, and what to include or exclude from life. Social life can be evaluated by considering the energy invested and received in friendships and other relationships. Physical health can be assessed by examining how one feels about themselves and one's self-esteem. Mental health can be explored by delving into happiness, recognizing other emotions, and understanding their underlying causes.

These journaling exercises consist of three steps: identifying goals, identifying values, and marrying goals to values.

  1. Start by naming your goals in this values clarification exercise. This will help you focus and get the most out of the practice. Your goal could be finding a new place to live, getting a promotion, learning a new language, committing to a romantic partner, or meeting a financial goal. Once you’ve set your intention, it’s time to uncover your values.
  2. Next, start identifying values, which can be done by listing top values or circling important ones from a larger list. These values may include family, loyalty, social justice, achievement, independence, beauty, health, art, expression, creativity, diversity, fairness, freedom, friendship, nature, and pleasure. Values clarification exercises can help individuals reflect on their personal values by thinking of how these values guide behavior and where they come from. Journaling about values in action can clarify beliefs and boost self-understanding, ultimately leading to goal-setting opportunities.
  3. Once you have established your goals and identified your important values, the next step is to connect the two. Consider how your goals align with your values and vice versa. Use your knowledge of your values to help guide your pursuit of your goals. This process can be achieved through journaling, extended contemplation, or by seeking input from trusted confidants. Some people prefer assigned exercises to explore their values, while others prefer to engage their own thoughts and introspection.

The goal of therapy for values clarification is to identify and surpass any roadblocks that stop a person from living a life according to their values. Therapists give clients the emotional and behavioral tools they need to make healthy changes in their life that take them towards a more fulfilling, comfortable way of living.

When choosing a therapist, it's important to find a practitioner with extensive training in the techniques that address your specific challenges, as well as someone you feel comfortable with — this is the therapeutic alliance. Many therapists have certifications and licenses to practice specific treatments and if you're expecting psychotherapy as part of your treatment, ensure your therapist has advanced training and is licensed in your state.