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Tuesday, August 20, 2019
authentic values
Tips & Training

How career professionals can help clients uncover their authentic values

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If I had my life to live over

I’d like to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I had been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I’m one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

Nadine Stair (85-year-old, Louisville, Kentucky, USA) in Teasdale,  Williams, & Segal (2014, p 40).


There are many people who have regrets about the life they have lived. They feel that they lived a life directed by the values of others (e.g. parents, friends) instead of their own. The later people discover this, the fewer opportunities they have to correct their chosen course in life and work.

Travelling on an authentic road contributes significantly to success and well-being. In this blog, we offer some ideas about how career counsellors can help clients find their authentic path. These ideas are inspired by the Acceptance and Commitment approach (Luken & De Folter, 2019). We consider choosing values and committing to them essential to developing authenticity.

What are values?
Tom Luken and Albert de Folter are co-authors of “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Fuels Innovation of Career Counselling,” a chapter in CERIC’s 2019 publication, Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for PracticeLearn more about the book at: ceric.ca/theories.

Hayes and Smiths define values as “chosen life directions” (2005, p. 155). Here, ‘chosen’ does not mean selected through rational decision-making. Instead, it indicates a commitment to something, which may not be objectively better.

A value is different from a goal. For example, a person values health. He sets as his goal to study medicine, but discovers that this is very difficult, and changes the goal to nursing. Thus, he replaces his goal, but remains committed to his value. Indeed, this commitment contributes to the necessary mental space to be able to reconsider the goal. In this process, the commitment and connected career identity are reinforced.

Words or phrases are not the ideal forms for values, as this can imply a loss of flexibility. When values take the form of envisioning a certain way of living and of doing things, they may have an enduring motivating and satisfying quality.

How do you uncover values?

Though linguistic representations of oneself and one’s values may be misleading, language is an indispensable instrument in counselling and reflection. The most basic method of discovering values is a dialogue in which the counsellor discusses questions with his client in order to stimulate a self-investigation about what makes this person’s life valuable and what he really wants. Here are some example questions:

  • If you take yourself as you are, what do you find is most important for your future?
  • Forgetting the expectations of your family and friends, what is your deepest wish or desire?
  • Can you tell me about moments where you feel real satisfaction?
  • Can you tell me about moments where you feel emotionally involved?

Of course, these are only some examples of opening questions. Counsellors can help their clients elaborate on their answers by responding with an empathic, mindful and encouraging attitude. They can reflect what the client says and draw attention to aspects that seem unnoticed by the client, especially signals of emotional involvement and authenticity.

The ACT toolkit (Luken & De Folter, 2019) contains several tools that offer a good starting point for a counselling dialogue about authentic values. Here, we mention two of them.

The ‘Actually-Questionnaire’

This questionnaire prompts the client to offer replies that feel authentic. The introduction encourages the client to focus on what is really important for himself and to leave aside what is of secondary importance or what stems from what other people’s perspectives. Then, the client is prompted to formulate phrases about five subjects, each starting with the word ‘actually.’ For example: “Actually, what I’m really good at is precise, detailed work”; “Actually, I like administrative work, but I don’t want my friends to know about that”.

About capacities and aptitudes:

  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

About your interests:

  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

About yourself:

  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

About your future

  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

About making a decision about your study of career:

  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Actually, ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Though simple, in our experience, this exercise offers a good starting point for a dialogue directed at learning about the client’s most crucial beliefs about self and future. It helps the career practitioner and client discern core beliefs from non-core opinions, influences and expectations.

Values card set

This tool consists of a set of 20 cards, each representing a value. The values are derived from Schwartz’ ‘Structure of values’ model (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000).

Wisdom Health Helping/caring Close friendship
Cosiness Modesty Obedience True love
Safety Rest and relaxation Power Status
Wealth Being competent Success Enjoyment
Adventure Independence Creativity Freedom

The client can independently choose the three or four values that are most important to them. The process may be livelier when it’s done by two to five clients together with the counsellor. An important advantage of cards is that they may be grouped and sorted in all kinds of ways.

The words on the cards are just a starting point. In a dialogue with the counsellor, clients can explore their values in relation to their lives, including how they act or would like to act upon them. For example, the word “wealth” in itself is rather meaningless. The question is how the person would want to obtain wealth and what he would do as a wealthy person.

Conclusion

Authentic values may serve as clear yet flexible direction indicators in life and career. A commitment to values goes together with a flexible adaptation of goals, if values are, as the Acceptance and Commitment approach indicates, in the form of images of activities and ways of living.

References

Hayes, S. C. & Smith, S. (2005). Get out of your mind & into your life: The new acceptance & commitment therapy. Oakland: New Harbinger.

Luken, T., & De Folter, A. (2019). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Fuels Innovation of Career Counselling. In N. Arthur, R. Neault, & M. McMahon (Eds.), Career Theory and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice. Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (pp. 195-206). Toronto: CERIC.

Sagiv, L., & Schwartz, S. H. (2000). Value priorities and subjective well-being : Direct relations and congruity effects. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 177-198.

Teasdale, J., Williams, M., & Segal, Z. (2014). The mindful way workbook: An 8-week program to free yourself from depression and emotional distress. New York: The Guilford Press.

Tom Luken is a work and organizational psychologist with a lifelong focus on career development. He has worked as a vocational guidance and career counsellor, trainer, researcher, professor, developer of instruments and methods, consultant, editor-in-chief of the Dutch quarterly for the career profession ‘LoopbaanVisie,’ and career specialist for a labour union. Albert de Folter worked in several managerial functions in the domain of career development and presided over the Commission Quality Circles of NOLOC, the Dutch society of career guidance professionals. In 2010 he started ‘Omega advies & coaching,’ from which he works as an independent career counsellor. In 2013 he initiated the project on ACT in career development.
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Tom Luken is a work and organizational psychologist with a lifelong focus on career development. He has worked as a vocational guidance and career counsellor, trainer, researcher, professor, developer of instruments and methods, consultant, editor-in-chief of the Dutch quarterly for the career profession ‘LoopbaanVisie,’ and career specialist for a labour union. Albert de Folter worked in several managerial functions in the domain of career development and presided over the Commission Quality Circles of NOLOC, the Dutch society of career guidance professionals. In 2010 he started ‘Omega advies & coaching,’ from which he works as an independent career counsellor. In 2013 he initiated the project on ACT in career development.
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