The Role of Values in the Helping Relationship

Dr. Donna L. Roberts
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What role do values play in the therapeutic process? While much attention has been given to the mandate of not imposing one’s values upon another, Corey, Corey and Callanan (2002) argue that “it is neither possible nor desirable for counselors to be completely neutral” with respect to their values in the therapy sessions (p. 72). This is a realistic approach to the topic which acknowledges that one’s values are inseparably a part of oneself and thus will permeate interactions with others, whether acknowledged as such, or not.

Closely related to the topic of the previous chapter, awareness of one’s values and the biases they may create, is an important facet of a self-aware and conscientious counselor. Acknowledging one’s values, how they influence behavior, and how they differ from the value systems of others is an aspect of clarifying the boundaries and establishing the open communication of the therapeutic relationship. It is often the case that a critical aspect of therapy will involve helping clients clarify their personal values. This autonomous, albeit guided, exploration differs from instructing a client or imposing one’s own values, although often it is a fine but very important line between the two extremes.

The neutrality of the therapeutic environment has been espoused since the early days of psychoanalysis when the therapist was regarded as a blank screen upon which a patient projected aspects of his/her psyche and unresolved conflicts. In this way, the value-free nature of the session was considered paramount. While it is still generally considered the norm in modern counseling for the therapist to refrain from imposing his/her values on the client or engaging in judgment of the client’s values, various therapists have taken the opposing view. Weisskopf-Joelson (1953) proposed that “the inculcation of a philosophy of life should be considered as one of the objectives of psychotherapy” (p. 603). Similarly, Beutler (1979) viewed psychotherapy as a process of persuasion, “considering the therapy process as one which systematically induces the patient to develop alternative beliefs which approximate those of the therapist” (p. 432). Still further acknowledging that the therapist is involved in a relationship with the client and, as such, a real person rather than a blank screen, Ginsberg & Herma (1953, p. 91) acknowledge that,
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No matter how passive the therapist may believe himself to be, and no matter how objective he remains in an attempt to allow the patient to develop his own set of values, there is an inevitable incorporation within the patient of a new superego patterned after the character of the therapist as he is perceived by the patient. There is almost inevitably an acceptance by the patient of many of the values of the therapist as they are communicated in the interpretation or through direct suggestion, or as they are deduced by the patient from his association with the therapist.

Corey, Corey and Callanan (2002) take a more balanced view on the topic. While they firmly state the necessity of refraining from harsh judgments regarding clients’ personal value systems, they recognize values as a continually operating factor in interactions between individuals, even within the therapeutic relationship. They identify values as influencing the therapeutic orientation and choice of intervention as well-being directly communicated. As such, they wisely encourage acknowledgment of any differences and conflicts which will undermine the therapy. Furthermore, they encourage a therapist to work with clients of differing views and advise only referring those with such extremely conflicting values that therapeutic progress is severely hampered. Their moderate view both acknowledges the reality of the power of values while strongly encouraging the flexibility and openness that marks a true ethical professional.


Beutler, L. E. (1979). Values, beliefs, religion and the persuasive influence of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, research, and practice, 16, 432-440.

Corey, G., Corey, M. and Callahan, P. (2002). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Ginsberg, S. W. & Herma, J. L. (1953). Values and their relationship to psychiatric principles and practice. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 7, 536-573.

Weisskopf-Joelson, E. (1953). Some suggestions concerning Weltanshauung and psychotherapy. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 601-604.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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