MH@H Mental Health

The Role of Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

exploring values - icons representing different values

I did a post a couple of years ago about exploring values, but when I was reading a recent post on the topic by Burnie at Squash Stigma Not Fat, I thought it would be good to revamp that post. While values matter across the board, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) places particular emphasis on them, so that’s the angle I’m going to take.

ACT views goals as directions rather than endpoints, while goals can serve as milestones along the way, assuming that they’re congruent with values. Values are relatively consistent over time, although the relative importance of each value can vary.

Since values reflect what’s most important to us and they don’t fluctuate a lot, they’re a more effective way of evaluating decisions about our actions than society’s and our own shoulds and what the inner critic might be nattering on about. The commitment part of the ACT name comes from the idea that we should take committed action towards our values, because that’s the direction is serves us best to be headed in. Self-sabotaging, on the other hand, can lead in the opposite direction.

Before we can consider where we go with our actions, though, it helps to reflect on what our key values are. Some might be immediately obvious (for me, independence has a big neon sign), while others you might have to think about for a bit. This list comes from Brené Brown, but there are many more to be found around the web:

Some of my values taken from that list are:

  • compassion: I think this is a big part of why nursing was a good career fit for me
  • curiosity, knowledge, and learning: learning more about the world makes my mind sing, and that’s a major factor in the way I approach my blog
  • equality
  • gratitude
  • home: home has always been my sanctuary
  • humour: being able to laugh at oneself and the world makes everything easier
  • independence: I’ve always been fiercely independent; try to take that away and the claws will come out
  • openness and self-expression
  • simplicity: bring on the guinea pigs and woodpeckers
  • career and travel: these were important for many years, but depression knocked them both off the list completely

I value reason and pragmatism (as I understand it) in terms of how I look at the world. I say “as I understand it” because I haven’t read what pragmatic philosophers have to say, nor do I care to. I’m very left brain-dwelling, and I like it there.

Besides ousting career and travel, I think depression has mostly contracted my values to focus on what’s most important to me. Luckily, those values are consistent with a pretty hermitish (at least in person) lifestyle with restricted functioning. I’m still able to engage with life in ways that are meaningful to me.

Have you given any thought to your own values? Do you find that shoulds, illness, or other influences drag you away from them?

These worksheets based on Russ Harris’s book The Happiness Trap include some useful exercises.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Fundamentals mini-ebook

The ACT Fundamentals mini-ebook/workbook provides an introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy.  It’s available form the MH@H Download Centre.

16 thoughts on “The Role of Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”

  1. I don’t think I have ever thought about my ‘values’ – not even sure what that means – what do I think is important in living my life? Is that what is meant by values? Do you mean inner values or outer values? An outer value being something like the Golden Rule – which is all you really need to be a good person/world citizen. An inner value would be something like – independence which carries with it a self-obligation to ask for and receive help/assistance when needed. I think that’s all the thinking I’m going to be doing about this.

  2. When I’ve been at low points, I focus my feelings on my children, or I try to. This last time, in 2017, was really rough. I kept having end-it-all thoughts because I finally accepted that I’d completely failed at finding a partner and would be alone forever. I had to keep reminding myself that I WAS NOT alone because I had daughters who love me. Gradually, my mood lifted, but it still dips sometimes. I realize this is not true depression, since I was always functional and could work.

  3. I like the sound of ACT. Acceptance itself is a value of mine – practising both presence and compassion. I put honesty high on my list which has historically been a hard one for me. Mainly because I’m not very good at being honest with myself 😂

  4. Hiya. I like this post and the focus on values. Ideally values bring us closer together. Mine include:
    – Health
    – Environment
    – Home
    – Making a Difference
    – Community
    – Giving Back

    While my illness often means I cannot work a regular 9 to 5 job, I have been able over the years to volunteer for various environmental and environmental health positions. This is a top priority for me after self-care.

    Thanks!

  5. I definitely see these values in you, especially in the sense that you accept everyone for who they are, which is amazing. I mean, I manage to do it with my friends, but you do it with everyone. It boggles the mind (in a good way). Your logic is also sound. I’m very logical but use logic for situations, whereas you use logic for accepting people and helping them see what they’re overlooking. That’s amazing! I hope I articulated that adequately to match the image in my mind of your impressive strengths.

    I’d say my values are… compassion, but my compassion can definitely be tested. I’d say I have discerning compassion moreso than unconditional compassion. For example, if I’m interacting with a catfisher who fakes a mood swing in order to extract money from me, my compassion has just flown out the window. And then there’s the whole fake beggar thing. But my compassion feels sincere toward people who aren’t trying to take advantage of said compassion.

    I value interdependence as a relationship model!! YAY!

    From the huge page of values: spirituality, friendship, adventure/travel, intuition, and gratitude jumped out at me. And then from that page, I’ve been working toward self-discipline and financial stability as goals.

    And it’s weird that I don’t necessarily expect others to value what I do, like there’s no right or wrong, but in a broad sense what I seek out in other people seems to be compassion, caring, gentleness, and loyalty (which I guess I define as wanting to stay friends for a long, long time).

    Some goals on the list make no impression on me like future generations and parenting. [Shrug.] Weird when those feelings are completely absent. Oh well.

    Fun topic!!

    1. I’ve never had the parenting urge either, and it seems a bit strange that so many people do.

      It’s great that you’ve got Sonya in my Prague to support the travelling and adventuring!

  6. This was more uncomfortable for me to read than it should have been. I think because I feel tension between what I feel my values ought to be, what I think my values actually are, and what values I have actually been living by through my actions/choices.

    I’m glad you posted this because it is was good for me to read, but I do feel uncomfortable now.

  7. I was raised to have values, mostly by my mother and maternal grandfather/mother.
    !. Never make fun of people with disabilities
    2. If you didn’t have something nice to say about a person, do not say anything at all.
    3. Respect the police.
    4. Never get into trouble with teachers or the principal at school.(My mother stressed that quite clearly. Straps at school meant a strap at home. Funny though, I do not think it ever happened.)
    Those are some values I hold to even now.

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