Personal Core Values and Beliefs as a Psychologist

Assignment – Paper 1 – Ethics & Laws in Psychotherapy: Summarize your core beliefs and value system (personal philosophy) as they apply to your personal life, clinical practice, and/or research interests. Think about them before writing the summary and briefly discussing their etiology and evolution in subsequent paragraphs. 7-9 pages in length. Questions to consider: What is “right or good” and what is “wrong, bad or evil”? Consider the etiology of these values and developmental criteria from your own life experiences. What are your assumptions about the nature of human beings? How responsible are people for themselves and their actions? What are your definitions of: Values, beliefs, ethics, morality, and conscience? Which values have drawn you to become a psychologist? How are these values reflected in the type of work you are doing and/or intend to do? How does psychology operate in legal agency for the government, Federal & state, and corporate values and interests? How do psychologists operate as agents for governmental state and private corporate interests?

Personal Core Values and Beliefs

Since the work as a psychologist is so complex, particularly when conducting research and psychotherapy, without adequate education and training to develop one’s professional competence, it is difficult to avoid making errors that may result in unintended harm to the participant or client. To assist in this delicate process of developing competence, the American Psychological Association (APA) have developed the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, also referred to as the Ethics Code. In the Ethics Code it states that “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons” (APA, 2017, p. 3).

In order to adhere to the above ethical principles concerning beneficence and nonmaleficence, meaning “the quality or state of doing or producing good” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.), respectively “the ethical principle of doing no harm” (Oxford Reference, n.d.), Campbell et al. (2010) describe that it is consequential that the psychologist develop professional competence in the field of psychology. The Ethics Code breaks up professional competence into skill-based competence, relating to all the abilities learned and maintained through formal education and training, and relational competence, referring to the combination of intrapersonal skills, such as self-monitoring and self-evaluation, with interpersonal abilities, such as understanding how one influences and is influenced by others (Campbell et al., 2010). Inability to practice skill-based competence, for example, may manifest as violations of the scope of practice and lack of awareness of skill limitations, whereas failing to practice relational competence may manifest as poor judgment, inability to make accurate observations, and interpersonal conflict (Campbell et al., 2010). Since a psychologist’s perspective on conducting research and therapy is heavily influenced by their understanding of and dedication to their professional competence, a vital component of effectively developing professional competence is increasing one’s awareness and comprehension of one’s core values, beliefs, biases, and self-perceptions (Campbell et al., 2010). One method for accomplishing this, which I personally enjoy, is spending time introspectively reflecting on and integrating the various experiences I’ve encountered, or conversely, while receiving supervision discussing a particular problematic situation or interesting phenomenon. Because I value introspection, I am allowing myself to describe the various stories and examples in this paper in a more reflective manner, with the hope that the reader in the process will gain a better understanding of some of my values and beliefs regarding my approach to both life and work as a therapist.

Respecting the Client’s Worldview and Maintaining Objectivity

To assist the reader in becoming aware of and better understanding the role of values in the dynamics of the therapeutic process, Corey et al. (2019) ask the reader to rate themselves on several statements. One of the statements, “There are no fundamental conflicts between counseling and religion or spirituality; therefore, it is possible to consider religious or spiritual concerns in a therapeutic relationship” (p. 77), reminded me of a supervision situation that had a profound effect on me as a therapist. My supervisor during my training as a body psychotherapist was a former Catholic priest who had spent years as a missionary in war-torn countries. When we were talking about belief structures in relation to the therapeutic process, he vividly described how a client can believe whatever they want as long as it does not harm others. It is not our role as therapists to argue with a client’s beliefs. The client may believe in aliens, witchcraft, mother Earth’s healing power, or science alone. Instead, we accept and respect the client’s beliefs as they are and make every effort to understand the client and what the beliefs mean to them. If we have a problem with a client or their beliefs, we must admit it and work to resolve it. In these instances, it is most likely that our own personal beliefs or unresolved past experiences have been triggered, necessitating additional attention. However, not from your client, but from spending time reflecting on it in introspection or discussing it in supervision.

To draw some conclusions from this example, I had the preconceived notion that simply because my supervisor had spent many years in the Catholic Church, he would not respect the faith of those who held a different belief system. Second, my supervisor’s attitude served as a beacon of light for me, demonstrating that as therapists, we do not need to believe much except in the client’s inherent ability to heal, which manifests at the appropriate time and under the right circumstances. Instead, we can be true scientists and explorers who are curious about our clients’ reality, current circumstances, and unique worldview.

Additionally, I believe that my supervisor’s approach exemplifies the critical nature of maintaining objectivity, at least to the extent that it is possible, while remaining aware of the influence our own personal values, beliefs, and unresolved past experiences may have on the therapeutic process. According to Richards et al. (1999), therapists should avoid imposing moral rules and values on their clients because doing so impairs their autonomy and limits their ability to make their own choices. Additionally, Falender and Shafranske (2004) suggest that if you are unable to maintain objectivity regarding a particular value, you should make it your problem, not the client’s. Your role is to assist clients in exploring and clarifying their beliefs, as well as applying their values to problem solving, with the exception of values and behaviors that are illegal. Lastly, Bergin (1991) encapsulates it all by stating, “It is vital to be open about values but not coercive, to be a competent professional and not a missionary for a particular belief, and at the same time to be honest enough to recognize how one’s value commitments may not promote health” (p. 399).

A Way of Relating to Right and Wrong, Good and Evil

“Maintaining objectivity,” “avoid imposing moral rules,” “not being coercive,” and “limiting others’ ability to make their own choices” are all concepts that point to a central issue, not just in terms of being a morally just therapist, but also in terms of how we live our lives on an individual and societal level. Therefore, let us to briefly discuss the concepts of “right or good” and “wrong, bad, or even evil,” which not only affect how we live our personal lives, but undoubtedly influence our work as psychologists, whether as researchers or in the therapeutic process with a client.

As a teenager, I moved from Sweden to Israel and Egypt because my father worked for the United Nations. Prior to moving to Israel, I spent a great deal of time educating myself about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through listening to news, watching documentaries, and reading books. A narrative emerged; if the source of information had a more left-leaning political affiliation, it had a better understanding of the Palestinian perspective and viewed events through that lens; conversely, if the source was more conservative, the understanding and opinion tended to favor Israel. Then, two years later, after having experienced Scud missiles flying over our balcony, my brother being kidnapped, regularly evacuating our school bus due to potential threats of bus bombings, evacuating from Israel to Egypt due to the First Gulf War, and other such events, as well as in the process becoming close friends with numerous Muslim Palestinians, Christian Palestinians, and Jewish Israelis, and listening to their perspectives, opinions, and historical explanations about who or what is right or wrong in all these conflicts, I returned to Sweden. When I was asked by friends which side was right or wrong, I recall finding it very difficult to provide an answer. To my mind, both sides were right and wrong, good and bad at the same time. Depending on the narrative perspective I chose to understand the conflict from, the explanation and rationale changed accordingly. While both sides committed horrific acts of violence against one another, the opposite was also true. At the same time as devastating events occurred, causing destruction and widespread pain, acts of compassion and love occurred, harnessing more constructive energy toward relationship building and long-term coexistence.

Although I was unaware of it at the time, the various experiences had laid a foundation to more easily understand two sides of a story, as well as objectively seeing things from a third perspective. Cynthia Bourgeault (2013), a contemporary mystic, refers to this way of thinking, which provides a bird’s eye view of a situation, as third force thinking. She describes that third force thinking is advantageous when seeking a solution to a problem and can be compared to “an independent force, coequal with the other two, not a product of the first two” (p. 26). In that sense, third force thinking, or for that sake non-dualistic thinking, as some people refer to it, transcends more binary everyday thinking in terms of black or white, right or wrong, goodness or evil, by recognizing a broader, deeper, and more nuanced reality that defies the traditional need to categorize and divide reality into two boxes (Allison, 2019; Loy, 1997).

Following this discussion of how to relate right and wrong, consider the definition of values, which the Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.-b) defines as “the principles that help you decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations.” Thus, if I had to choose a single overarching principle that governs all of my other values, as well as my relationship to right and wrong, goodness and evil, I would follow the nondualistic approach to the best of my ability. In practice, this would entail maintaining mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual balance prior to each therapeutic session and over time in order for my nervous system to be down-regulated and in balance when assessing and interacting with my clients. Second, I should be grounded in the sensation of being in my body throughout and after a session, while also considering my own perspective, reactions, and potential transference issues (first perspective), the client’s (second perspective), and the third, non-dual or non-dichotomous presence and state of mind, which in my experience allows greater clarity, access to wisdom, and a stronger connection with both the logical and intuitive minds.

Congruence Between Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

Another component that I believe equally important to “third force thinking,” and which relates to how I “act in various situations,” as included in the definition of the word values, as well as “the feeling of being certain that something exists or is true,” which is the very definition of the word beliefs (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.-a), is congruence. In my experience, the very essence of the relationship between our deeper core values and our daily behaviors can be found in the congruency between an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. As an example, the situations that have caused me the most difficulty, whether inside or outside of a therapeutic setting, have occurred when I have not been truly honest with my deeper feelings, which means that I may have thought or said one thing, felt another, and ultimately acted differently. While I use the term “incongruence,” Funder (2016) defines it as “inconsistencies” within the psychological triangle of cognition, emotion, and behavior.

On the other hand, when I am able to remain congruent, that is, when my behaviors and actions match my deeper feelings and what I am thinking or saying, I encounter less conflicts in my life. Thus, is it possible that outer conflicts in most cases, prior to or in the process of being created, already are present as internal conflicts experienced as incongruencies between cognition, feelings, and actions? I believe that to be the case and therefore, I find that being congruent, and recognizing and adjusting when we are not, helps us stay true to our deeper core values and beliefs, and is thus a very useful approach, skill, or practice for a psychologist to employ, for example, assisting in all the various situations in which our integrity might otherwise be compromised.

Believing that Everyone Can Change

One reason for not being congruent, I believe, is that it can take a lot of energy to interpret what we truly feel and why, as well as the fact that conflicting feelings are frequently unpleasant, making it easier to ignore the vital information conveyed by them. This raises another issue of how responsible are we as humans for our own actions and behaviors? In this regard, what are some of my beliefs about human nature? Allow me to elaborate slightly. For many years, I believed that anyone could change themselves and their lives; all they had to do was decide to change and then act on that decision, evaluating the outcomes and determining whether they brought one closer to the desired result. If not, learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, and try again. In retrospect, as I grew a little wiser and learned more about psychology, I realized that this was more consistent with how I and many other highly self-motivated people functions, not necessarily everyone else.

Then, one day, I made a close friend from my military days, and while we shared many common interests and perspectives on life, it occurred to me that in one respect he saw people diametrically differently than I did. Whereas I had simply assumed that anyone could change if they just wanted to, he believed that people never really change. Despite my natural tendency to dismiss anything pessimistic too quickly, such as his view of human nature, I made an attempt to comprehend his point of view. Taking a non-dualistic view of right and wrong as a starting point, I reasoned that there must be something to his experiences and that perhaps I was missing something. After a while, I realized we were both correct and, of course, incorrect.

Although I love learning new things, growing as a person, and “changing” as a result, I realized that I have been this way for the majority of my life. I’ve always been curious about things and people, and have always enjoyed learning in the direction of my curiosity and “changing” as a result. In that regard, while I had been growing more into who I felt I was deep down, in that I was better able to say no to things that were not congruent with my authentic self, I had not changed significantly on a personality level. My core values and beliefs, for example, summarized in the following two statements: Treat others as you would like to be treated, and be honest with yourself if you want honesty from others, had been present and reflected in my behavior for the most part. My belief in human potential became a little more nuanced as a result of this realization. Rather than believing that anyone can change their lives, I realized that true change is difficult, but nonetheless possible if the desire is strong enough. This new perspective, I believe, will allow me to more effectively deal with the ambivalence that many clients feel when confronted with change. While people want to change, they are not always willing to make the necessary effort. In this regard, we are sometimes willing to endure great discomfort in order to avoid making a change.

Furthermore, concerning my various beliefs about human nature, I am a firm believer in respecting free will as long as no harm is done to others, except in self-defense. I believe that individuals are responsible for their own health and well-being. However, I believe that many people struggle with it because they are unaware of what constitutes true health and wellness and because they are preoccupied with earning a living and maintaining a busy schedule. While the famous saying “ignorance is bliss” often holds true, I believe it is equally accurate to state that “ignorance is bliss until it is not.”

Overall, in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, my experience is that when we humans attempt to meet the four lower survival or deficit needs of physiological needs (first hierarchical need), safety and security needs (second hierarchical need), social needs related to love and belonging (third hierarchical need), and self-esteem and significance (fourth hierarchical need), we are strongly influenced to either avoid pain or pursue pleasure (Crain, 2010; Nordstrom, 2013). In this sense, the fulfillment of deficit needs, which account for a sizable portion of life for the majority of people, is strongly influenced by a fear-based approach, even though I believe the majority of people are unaware that our choices, behaviors, and actions often are influenced by various fears of experiencing pain or opposite desire to experience pleasure (Nordstrom, 2013). Again, because the majority of people have not been taught, among other things, how to discern and manage their emotions, the conclusion is that change is difficult.

According to happiness research, a fulfilled life requires meeting Maslow’s higher needs, which include helping or serving others, as well as growing, exploring, and learning new things (Maslow, 1943; Tay & Diener, 2011). If the nervous system is not sufficiently down-regulated from the stress response (fight, flight, or freeze) into the social engagement system (Porges, 2011), or if an individual is overly influenced by insecure attachment to self and others (Ainsworth et al., 2015; Grenberg & Johnson, 1988; Hazan & Shaver, 1990, 1994), it can be difficult to feel safe and secure enough to explore the world in a playful manner. This brings us back to the need for psychologists, particularly, in my opinion, psychologists who not only assist their clients to recover from adversity, but also guide them toward resilience, vitality, and well-being, as is common in humanistic psychology. This actually brings us to the core value that have motivated me to work as a therapist for nearly two decades and to pursue licensure as a psychologist. This value is best described as the fulfillment that comes from helping others in times of crisis and assisting them on their path to well-being, vitality, and, if desired, self-actualization.

While pursuing this path of personal growth and service to others, I believe it is critical to maintain one’s integrity in the face of private interests and, to a lesser extent, government constrictions. To avoid compromising it, I believe it is critical to be well informed about the rules and regulations governing what one may and may not do, to receive supervision in potential gray areas where the answers are not black or white, and to be particularly diligent about adhering to one’s ethical and moral code and core values of be honest, do good, and do no harm.


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