Thursday, July 02, 2009

Value Systems in Psychotherapy

My current course (as of last night) is Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling. I wasn't looking forward to this class, mostly because I love the theory stuff so much more. But having read several chapters of the text now, one of which dealt with values issues in therapy, I am a bit more interested.

One of the ethical issues raised in the text is how therapists should deal with mismatches in value systems between client and therapist. Are there times a therapist should refer a client to another therapist? Is it EVER appropriate to try to "teach" our values to others? Are there some clients you simply cannot see due to their values? [For the record, I think maybe, no, and maybe.]

Ideally the therapist would be (and I am going to toss around some Spiral Dynamics Integral terminology here - see above for color associations with stages and values/worldviews) at least cognitively and morally second tier, or entry-level integral - even being middle to late post-conventional might be adequate.

With the emergence of the seventh stage, or beginning second tier, an individual is capable of honoring all of the first six stages of development in the first tier as valuable and as a proper response to the current life conditions. This is a huge shift in consciousness.

How does this happen? When life conditions change in a supportive way, a person can rise the next level of development (assuming also the requisite internal capacities, such as intelligence, brain function, etc, and the social structures that can support such an emergence). So no one level is in itself good or bad, assuming development matches the life conditions.

In each of the first six stages of development, the person embedded in a given stage tends to believe that stage and its values is the only TRUE system of beliefs. If you happen to reside in the Blue authoritarian, mythic vMeme stage, any other stages (for example, the egotistic Red stage preceding it, or the self-actualizing Orange stage which comes next) are seen as wrong and as dangerous to its own beliefs.

One other example is the Green vMeme that sees all beliefs as relative and valuable, and yet it disapproves of hierarchical viewpoints, which seems to them to be valuing all systems equally. This ignores the fact that they are privileging their own relativism over ANY form of hierarchy (which is inherent in most structures of any kind) - a patently silly self-contradiction.

Anyway, so for a therapist, it is obviously desirable to be second tier and no longer embedded in the monological views of the first tier value systems and worldviews.

If a therapist is lucky enough to have experience the conditions and to have the capacities necessary to reach second tier, and to operate from that space with clients, then differences in beliefs and values won't present too much of an issue. Such a therapist can disidentify with any one system of values (also known as a worldview) and so serve the client without attachment (to a lesser or greater degree).

However, what can a first-tier therapist (which is most of us) do in a situation where their own values might get in the way of helping a client, short of referring the client to another therapist?

Barring a few years of intense meditation learning how to be non-attached to our emotions and beliefs, we can learn how to be Self-led, to use the term of Richard Schwartz, found of Internal Family Systems Therapy.
What are the characteristics of Self-leadership? I don't know the entire answer to that question. After twenty years of helping people toward that Self-leadership, I can describe what my clients exhibit as they have more of their Self present. As I sifted through various adjectives to capture my observations, I repeatedly came up with words that begin with the letter C. So, the eight Cs of self-leadership include: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.
When we can embody these eight c-words, we are not caught up in our parts, in our beliefs, or in our own ideas of how things should be - we are fully present and open - we are Self-led.

This takes a lot of practice, and it takes some serious work with our own parts to get them out of the way (while also assuring them that their needs will be addresses and honored, as long as they trust the Self). When we are in Self, our parts can be trusting that they will be heard and cared for, which allows us to ask them to step back when they get triggered by a client. Here is a little more from Schwartz:
Instead of being overwhelmed by and blending with their emotions, Self-led people were able to hold their center, knowing that it was just a part of them that was upset now and would eventually calm down. They became the "I" in the storm. Over the years of doing this work, it becomes easier to sense when some degree of Self is present in people and when it's not. To rephrase a joke, you get the impression that "the lights are on and someone is home." A person who is leading with the Self is easy to identify. Others describe such a person as open, confident, accepting -- as having presence. They feel immediately at ease in a Self-led person's company, as they sense that it is safe to relax and release their own Selves. Such a person often generates remarks such as, "I like him because I don't have to pretend -- I can be myself with him."
I've been working on this in my own life for years, and it still seems challenging - BUT it is certainly something we should aspire to as therapists. For more information, check out this foundational essay from Richard Schwartz on The Larger Self.

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