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Values: Connecting To What Matters

Values: Connecting To What Matters is a practical self-help guide which introduces the reader a cornerstone of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Framed as “helping you live a well-lived life”, the guide introduces the reader to an ACT understanding of pain and suffering, and explains how values can keep people focused on what makes their lives meaningful. Important qualities of values are described with accessible case examples and metaphors before the reader is guided through a series of practical exercises. These help the reader to practice choosing their values, examine values that are already present in their life, and explore the domains of their life where their values are present or absent. Finally, the guide encourages readers to take actionable steps towards living in line with their identified values, creating a consistent and value-driven life path. This guide was developed in collaboration with Dr Jenna LeJeune, co-author of Values in Therapy: A Clinician's Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.

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A psychoeducational guide. Typically containing elements of skills development.

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  • English (GB)
  • English (US)

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

During difficult times, our struggles can pull us away from what matters most. Values: Connecting To What Matters is a practical and accessible resource that equips people with the tools needed to reconnect with their values, enabling people to cultivate meaningful, well-lived lives even in the midst of adversity. It was developed in collaboration with Dr Jenna LeJeune, a ACT Peer Reviewed Trainer, and co-author of Values in Therapy: A Clinician's Guide to Helping Clients Explore Values, Increase Psychological Flexibility, and Live a More Meaningful Life.

Technically, values are desired qualities of ongoing action. Poetically, they’re our heart’s deepest desires for how we want to treat ourselves, others, and the world around us during our brief time upon this planet. Metaphorically, they’re like a compass: they give us direction, keep us on track, and help us find our way when we get lost. 

(Harris, 2019.)

Values are a vital source of motivation and meaning (Hitlin & Piliavin, 2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) provides a comprehensive theory of values, grounded in basic behavioral principles and relational frame theory, and has developed from a range of values-focused interventions (Plumb et al., 2009). ACT is primarily a behavioral treatment, which aims to help people pursue a meaningful path through life, so all ACT interventions ultimately serve to help individuals live by their values (Hayes et al., 2016). Accordingly, values are believed to have some important characteristics (Harris, 2019):

  • Values are desired. People choose values that capture how they want to behave. They do not act in these ways based on logic, external pressure, or moral dictates, but because it matters to them.
  • Values are global qualities. Values can unite and coordinate different behaviors over time. For instance, a person can express their value of being compassionate in multiple ways.
  • Values are ongoing actions. They are dynamic and evolving “ways of living” or “life directions” that people pursue, such as living lovingly, playfully, or with perseverance (Hayes, 2019). These values can be lived across multiple domains or contexts (e.g. with your family, at work, in your relationships).
  • Finally, choice is integral to values. People construct and choose their values without needing to explain, justify, or rationalize them (although they are often socialized to some; Hayes et al., 2012). In other words, values are not ‘out there’ in the world; but are defined, constructed, and freely chosen by individuals (Wilson et al., 2010).

People often lose touch with their values. Self-doubt, fear of judgment or displeasing others, adherence to externally determined norms or values, and avoidance of pain can all disconnect people from what matters most:

A clear sense of self-directed meaning provides us with an essentially inexhaustible supply of motivation. But we can easily lose sight of what is actually meaningful to us, pursuing socially compliant goals and superficial gratifications instead. Every tick of the clock can mock us with the emptiness of such a life. (Hayes, 2019)

In ACT, values clarification is a critical process. It involves identifying what is most meaningful to an individual and using that knowledge to guide, motivate, and inspire behavioral change. This process is key to enhancing psychological flexibility, which is the central aim of ACT. By focusing on values, individuals learn to move towards a life that is more fulfilling, and in alignment with their true self.

This guide is designed to help clients identify and work on their values. Sections include:

  • The problem of trying to feel good.
  • What are values?
  • Values are directions, not destinations.
  • Your values are your own.
  • Values give life a sense of meaning and vitality.
  • Values are like a guiding light.
  • Values help you cope with difficult experiences.
  • Should you move away from pain, or toward your values?
  • What is this in service of?
  • Practice choosing your values.
  • Exploring values where they already exist.
  • Valued domains.
  • Think beyond words.
  • Setting the course for your valued life journey.
  • Barriers will show up.

Therapist Guidance

This is a Psychology Tools guide. Suggested uses include:

  • Client handout. Use as a psychoeducation and skills-development resource.
  • Discussion point. Provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs.
  • Therapist learning tool. Improve your familiarity with a psychological construct.
  • Teaching resource. Use as a learning tool during training.

References And Further Reading

  • Harris, R. (2019). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Hayes, S. C., Pistorello, J., & Levin, M. E. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Unified Model of Behavior Change. The Counseling Psychologist, 40(7), 976-1002. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000012460836
  • Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2016). Acceptance and commitment therapy 2nd edition: the process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.
  • Hayes, S. (2019). A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters. New York: Avery.
  • Hitlin, S., & Piliavin, J. A. (2004). Values: Reviving a dormant concept. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 359-393.
  • LeJeune, J., & Luoma, J. B. (2019). Values in therapy: A clinician’s guide to helping clients explore values, increase psychological flexibility, and live a more meaningful life. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Luoma, J. B., Hayes, S. C., & Walser, R. D. (2007). Learning ACT: An acceptance & commitment therapy skills-training manual for therapists. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Plumb, J. C., Stewart, I., Dahl, J., & Lundgren, T. (2009). In search of meaning: Values in modern clinical behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst, 32, 85-103.
  • Wilson, K. G., Sandoz, E. K., Kitchens, J., & Roberts, M. E. (2010). The Valued Living Questionnaire: Defining and measuring valued action within a behavioral framework. The Psychological Record, 60, 249-272.

Some of the exercises in this guide are adapted from:

  • Ciarrochi, J., Blackledge, J. T., & Heaven, P. (2006). Initial validation of the social values survey and personal values questionnaire. Paper presented at the Second World Conference on ACT, RFT, and Contextual Behavioral Science, London, England.
  • Miller, W. R., C’de Baca, J., Matthews, D. B., Wilbourne, P. L. (2001). Personal values card sort. University of New Mexico.
  • Wilson, K. G. (July, 2005). Eroding the illusion of separation: The interplay of core ACT processes in group training. Paper presented at the 2005 ACT/RFT Summer Institute II, LaSalle University, Philadelphia.
  • Wilson, K. G., & DuFrene, T. (2009). Mindfulness for Two: An acceptance and commitment therapy approach to mindfulness in psychotherapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.