Values in psychotherapy
: an exploration of their role and function in professional practice

  • Edith Cormack

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the values of a group of practicing psychotherapists and examines the function these values have for their personal and professional lives with a view to both clarifying and deepening an understanding of the role of values in professional life and practice. The study is situated within a constructivist framework and also draws on social constructionist perspectives consistent with a sociohistorical approach to values within psychotherapy practice in a post modern era.The study is historically contextualised in relation to the place of values in the practice of care, and in respect of a critical review of the role of values in the profession of psychotherapy. Two studies were carried out. The first consisted of indepth interviews with eleven experienced, practicing psychotherapists, analysed using grounded theory methodology. A second study analysed a therapy session between a counsellor and her client in order to identify the values occurring in the interaction and to explore how these were managed. The results of these studies demonstrate that while the therapists acknowledged the value-laden nature of their practice, they were not aware of how these values impacted on the client, nor were they clear on the extent to which values influence was acceptable and ethical. While they rejected an authoritarian imposed morality, they were committed to the care of others and to their own development which they considered to be moral imperatives. Study two demonstrated that the therapist validated her client’s values when these were part of her own personal value system, but that the therapist’s values superseded those of the client when there was conflict between the client’s values and those of the therapist’s theoretical orientation. The implications of these findings for the practice of psychotherapy within a pluralistic culture are examined, and their relevance to the training and development of practitioners is discussed. Suggestions are made as to how the clarification and deeper understanding of values can improve therapist’s self knowledge and enhance an understanding of a client’s perspective. This thesis provides evidence that values are significantly important in both human life and therapeutic practice and highlights the need to create a coherent conceptual framework of values which is consistent with the prevailing cultural conditions. The thesis concludes that values give meaning and purpose to human life and are essential to human well being so are of significant importance in the profession of psychotherapy.
Date of AwardOct 2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn McLeod (Supervisor)

Cite this