Interview with Jenna LeJeune, PhD on Values Work

I was recently interviewed for the Praxis blog about values work in ACT  in conjunction with the upcoming webinar I’ll be offering through Praxis called “Values: Connecting with Who and What is Most Important.” We covered a lot of ground in the interview, from how I might define values from an ACT perspective to looking at some of the most common difficulties therapists seem to have when working with clients around values.

One of the ways I think people struggle with values work is when we start talking about values as “things” or “words” that occur out there/then. In talking about the need to have values be present in the room when doing values work, I talked about the metaphor of the truffle dog I often use when talking about values work. As an ACT therapist, part of my job is to “sniff out” when values may be present, much like a truffle dog uses his nose to find the precious delicacies underneath the dirt and leaves. When the client and I are able to unearth a value that is present in the room, it comes alive and is something quite precious for both of us to behold and appreciate.

Below are some excerpts from the interview.

On the function of values clarification in psychotherapy:

From my perspective, values work gives you the “why” in treatment planning and in psychotherapy in general. Without getting clarity on a client’s chosen values, I can’t know what the hard work of therapy is in the service of. If I don’t know my client’s values, I can feel more like a technician, simply administering interventions in what can feel like a pretty impersonal manner. But when my client and I can get clear on what her own chosen values are, the work becomes personal, and in my experience, more vital.

On the ways that clients and clinicians get tripped up around values:

People playing the role of therapist often get tripped up around the same things that people playing the role of client do. In terms of values, one of the places where we can all tend to get tripped up, in my experience, comes when we start talking about values as “things.”

We (clients and therapists) can get caught up in trying to identify or choose specific value words. Exercises such as a values card sort, or selecting values from some predetermined list, while very helpful in the right context, in my experience can also lead to conversations that lack vitality, vulnerability, and a sense of being alive in the present moment.

On identifying instances when values work may be called for:

There are several different cues I look for that would lead me to focus more on values work in a session. Values and pain are two sides of the same coin, therefore, when clients are more numb, feel “empty”, apathetic, or otherwise are not in contact with the cost of the avoidance in their lives, it often signals to me that they are also not in contact with their values either. Focusing on values work in these cases can help the client come into contact with the discrepancy between what they are currently valuing by their behavior and what they would choose to value if they were free to do so.

I will also often turn to values work when it seems like the work of therapy is motivated by avoidance or aversive control. If a client is white-knuckling his way through exposure work or is engaged in therapy as a way to “fix” herself, I’ll often turn to values work to orient us to something we would want our work to move us towards.

You can read the entire interview here.

If you’re interested in learning more about incorporating values work into your sessions, you can sign up for the Praxis webinar  “Values: Connecting with Who and What is Most Important.”

Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Author: Jenna LeJeune, Ph.D

Jenna is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with people who struggle with relationship and intimacy difficulties and with those who have a trauma history. Her research focuses on developing compassion-based interventions targeting stigma, shame, and chronic self-criticism.

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