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What Are Values In Acceptance And Commitment Therapy

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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a widely practised form of psychotherapy that focuses on bringing about psychological flexibility through the acceptance of one’s thoughts and feelings while committing to actions that are in line with one’s values. Struggling to align your actions with what truly matters to you? Values are the heartbeat of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), guiding us like a compass towards our true north.

Keep reading to learn how identifying and embracing personal values can transform your mental health journey, offering a clearer path forward

Key Takeaways

  • Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are vital because they act like a compass, guiding our actions and giving life purpose. They are different from goals which are specific targets.
  • Embracing personal values can lead to greater mental health by giving meaning to life, building resilience against tough times, and aiding better decision-making.
  • In ACT, therapists help clients identify their unique values using various techniques such as presenting options, metaphors, role-playing, and perspective-taking activities.
  • Challenges in values work include dealing with difficult values that may conflict with societal norms or personal habits. Tackling these involves respect for the client’s individuality and encouraging alignment with true priorities.
  • Addressing pliance in therapy is essential as it helps individuals understand the importance of aligning behaviours with deeply-held personal values rather than simply complying with external demands or avoiding discomfort.
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What are Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refer to the core beliefs and principles that guide a person’s actions and decisions. These values represent what is truly important to an individual, serving as a compass for living a meaningful and purposeful life.

In ACT, values are different from goals in that they are ongoing pursuits rather than specific achievements.

Definition of values

Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are much like a compass that guides us through life’s journey. They’re chosen by each person and come from within. Instead of being objects, they represent our heart’s deepest desires for how we want to live our lives.

We might value being kind, having fun or making a difference in the world.

These values help shape every choice and action we take, like signposts leading us to who we truly want to be. They aren’t goals with a finish line; rather, they’re about the way you act day-in and day-out—whether it’s showing love to family or giving your best at work or school.

Values help make our actions meaningful even when times get tough.

Differentiating between values and goals

Values in ACT guide how a person wants to act on an ongoing basis. They are like compass directions that point towards the kind of life you want to live. In contrast, goals are the steps or milestones you aim for along your journey.

Think of it this way: if values are about how you want to behave as you move through life, then goals are what you can tick off a list once achieved.

Living by your core values is key in ACT because it helps align your actions with what truly matters to you. Goals may change over time, but values tend to stay stable and give lasting meaning to our lives.

It’s not enough just achieving goals; happiness also comes from acting in ways that reflect our deepest values.

Now let’s dive into why these values matter so much for mental health.

Why Are Values Important for Mental Health?

Values are essential for mental health as they give life meaning and purpose, building resilience and improving decision-making. They play a crucial role in promoting psychological flexibility and overall well-being.

Giving life meaning and purpose

Values act as a compass in our lives. They guide us to what is important and meaningful. Embracing personal values can lead us to live with purpose, even when times are tough. People often find strength and direction by understanding their core values.

Living by your values might mean volunteering if you value helping others or focusing on family time if relationships are central for you. Regardless of the challenges we face, staying true to ourselves brings fulfillment and adds depth to our existence.

It’s all about making choices that align with who we want to be in every aspect of life, from work to leisure activities. Doing this promotes psychological flexibility and turns daily actions into expressions of what truly matters to us.

Building resilience

Values don’t just give life meaning; they also make us strong. They help us stand tall in tough times. Learning and practicing resilience lets us bounce back from hard situations. We become better at handling stress and not letting it beat us down.

Resilience is a skill we can grow, like a muscle getting stronger with exercise.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, finding values helps build this strength. It teaches that even if bad things happen, we can cope by holding on to what matters to us. This way, our self-esteem grows as we believe more in ourselves.

With ACT, you learn how to face challenges without losing hope or giving up on your values.

Improving decision-making

Building resilience is one step, but ACT also focuses on honing your ability to make better choices. Good decisions spring from knowing what matters most to you. ACT spells out how this works by teaching skills that handle tough emotions without running away from them.

These skills lead straight to smarter decisions.

You learn to commit to actions that fit with your values and goals in ACT. This commitment means you’re more likely to choose paths that are good for you in the long run. The six core principles of ACT, such as acceptance, help clear the fog around decision-making too.

They make it easier for you to see which choice will steer you towards a life that’s more fulfilling and true to who you want to be.

Implementing Values in ACT

In implementing values in ACT, therapists present value options and train clients in discrimination of values work. They draw on perspective-taking to help clients clarify and prioritise their values.

Presenting values options

Therapists in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy help clients explore values. They do this by presenting various life domains for consideration.

  • Offer a list of values: A therapist might give the client a worksheet with different values written down. These can include love, honesty, or adventure.
  • Explain life domains: Clients learn about areas like work, relationships, and personal growth. This helps them see where they can apply their values.
  • Encourage choices close to the heart: It’s important for people to pick values that truly matter to them. Values should reflect what they care about most.
  • Use metaphor for clarity: The therapist might say “values are like stars guiding you.” This reminds clients that values light the way through life’s journey.
  • Discuss examples from each domain: Talking through real-life situations shows how values play a role in daily decisions.
  • Prioritise top values: Clients sort out which values they see as most critical. They think about which ones shape their actions the most.
  • Explore personal meaning: People dive deeper into why certain values resonate with them. What makes these ideals stand out?
  • Encourage perspective-taking: Clients imagine how focusing on chosen values will change their daily life. How will these principles guide them?

Training discrimination in values work

After exploring various values options in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the next step is training discrimination in values work. This process helps people tell the difference between actions driven by their true values and those driven by a wish to avoid bad feelings.

  • First, clients learn to spot behaviors that are trying to dodge painful emotions or thoughts. They notice when they are doing something just to avoid feeling upset.
  • Next, counselors help clients see when their actions match up with what they truly value. Clients become aware of choices that reflect their deeper beliefs.
  • The therapy encourages looking at long-term outcomes rather than short-term relief from discomfort. Clients focus on how value-driven actions can lead to a fulfilling life.
  • The aim is to boost psychological flexibility. This means being open to experiences, even if they’re tough, as long as they’re connected to important personal values.
  • People practice choosing behaviors that feel good because they are right for them, not because those actions keep bad feelings away.
  • Clients learn through examples and exercises how different choices can either support or go against what they really care about in life.
  • In sessions, therapists guide clients to understand the consequences of avoiding discomfort versus pursuing valued life directions. They compare these paths directly.

Drawing on perspective-taking

  1. Encouraging clients to imagine themselves from a third – person perspective, observing their thoughts and feelings as an outsider would.
  2. Employing role – playing exercises that allow clients to embody different perspectives related to their values, enhancing empathy and understanding.
  3. Utilising visualisation techniques to help clients envision living according to their values, fostering a sense of purpose and direction.
  4. Guiding clients through narrative exercises that involve creating stories from alternative viewpoints, broadening their understanding of themselves and others.

Techniques for Exploring Values

Using metaphors can be a powerful way to explore values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, allowing clients to access deeper insights and connections. To learn more about how these techniques can enhance values work, read the full blog post.

Using metaphors

Metaphors play a crucial role in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) by helping individuals detach from distressing thoughts and emotions. They are powerful tools that therapists use to depict the fluid nature of self-identity, allowing clients to explore their values and embrace behavioural changes.

These metaphors serve as poignant illustrations, guiding clients towards accepting past pain while committing to a more fulfilling future in ACT.

In ACT, metaphors are utilised not only as aids for defusion from painful experiences but also as catalysts for exploring values and supporting behavioural change. Therapists have at their disposal a wealth of ACT metaphors designed to facilitate this process, offering diverse ways to help clients navigate difficult emotions and outlooks on life.

Unstructured verbal discussion

In unstructured verbal discussion, clients freely express their thoughts and feelings about their values without any predetermined structure. This approach allows for organic exploration of values, encouraging clients to delve into the underlying meaning they hold.

By promoting open dialogue and free expression, unstructured verbal discussion can uncover deep-seated values that may not emerge through more structured techniques. The absence of predefined parameters in this form of discussion creates space for genuine introspection and self-discovery, supporting the authentic exploration of personal values.

Aided by perspective-taking approaches emphasised in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), unstructured verbal discussions enable clients to connect with their verbally constructed environments, fostering greater awareness of how their values influence behaviour.

Considerations in Implementing Values Work

When implementing values work in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, it’s crucial to determine when to use it, address aversive private events, and differentiate values from goals. To learn more about the importance of values in mental health and how they are implemented in ACT, keep reading!

Determining when to use values work

Assess the client’s level of psychological inflexibility and whether their behavior is aligned with their values. Determine if the client’s goals are being hindered by a lack of focus on personal values.

Ensure that values work is appropriate for addressing aversive private events and increasing psychological flexibility.

Consider the utility of using language to create behavioral change based on the foundational framework provided by clarifying values in ACT. Evaluate whether implementing values work could help build resilience, improve decision-making, and give life meaning and purpose in the context of mental health treatment.

Addressing aversive private events

In the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), addressing aversive private events is crucial. It involves helping individuals develop the willingness to experience unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations without attempting to avoid or control them.

This can be achieved by fostering a non-judgemental and accepting stance towards these internal experiences, which is fundamental in guiding clients towards value-driven actions. ACT emphasises that aversive private events are an inherent part of human existence, and learning to approach them with openness and mindfulness can lead to a more meaningful life.

To manage aversive private events effectively, it’s essential for individuals to understand that experiencing discomfort or negative internal states does not equate to failure or weakness.

Differentiating values from goals

Values are consistent ways of doing things, guiding our actions and decisions in various aspects of life. Goals, on the other hand, are specific achievements we aim to reach within a set period.

While values give direction and meaning to our actions, goals provide specific targets for us to work towards.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), understanding this distinction is crucial. Identifying core values helps individuals align their behaviours with what truly matters to them, while setting meaningful goals that reflect those values allows for purposeful action and progress in desired directions.

By recognising the difference between values and goals, individuals can cultivate psychological flexibility and navigate challenges in a way that promotes overall well-being rather than getting caught up solely in achieving particular outcomes.

Challenges in Values Work

Dealing with “challenging” values and addressing pliance can present obstacles in implementing values work. It’s important to navigate these challenges with a non-judgmental and inclusive approach, respecting the individuality of each client.

Dealing with “challenging” values

Addressing challenging values in ACT involves open-mindedness and respect for the client’s perspective, even when their values differ from our own. It’s essential to approach these values with compassion and understanding, creating a safe space for clients to explore even the most difficult aspects of their value system.

By acknowledging and working through challenging values without judgment, we can help individuals align with their true priorities and live more authentically.

When addressing “challenging” values in ACT, it’s vital to remember the therapy’s emphasis on sustainable positive changes through values-based living. This entails assisting clients in defining what truly matters to them despite potential societal or personal conflicts.

Addressing pliance

Dealing with “challenging” values provides an important foundation for addressing pliance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Therapists need to understand that addressing pliance is crucial for promoting behaviour change and achieving therapeutic goals.

In ACT, verbal interventions are utilised to help clients align their actions with their values, facilitating a return to work for individuals facing challenges. This approach not only addresses pliance but also contributes to meaningful behaviour change and increased psychological flexibility, making it a valuable aspect of the therapy process.

ACT’s meaningful approach effectively supports individuals who have faced challenges in other therapies by offering tools to address pliance through values work. The core components of this model provide a framework for therapists to navigate aversive private events while maintaining focus on assisting clients in aligning their actions with their underlying values.


In conclusion, values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are not merely goals but consistent guiding principles. They help give life meaning, build resilience, and enhance decision-making.

Implementing values in ACT involves presenting options, training discrimination, and using perspective-taking techniques. Challenges may arise when dealing with “challenging” values or addressing pliance, but clarifying and assessing values play a crucial role in guiding individuals towards living a meaningful and fulfilling life.


1. What are values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

In ACT, values are chosen life directions that are deeply important to us. They guide how we want to behave on an ongoing basis, like wanting to be loving or respectful.

2. How do values differ from goals in ACT?

Values in ACT represent ongoing qualities of action, while goals are specific achievements we strive for. Values can never be ‘completed’, but goals can.

3. Can you give an example of a value someone might focus on in therapy?

Someone might consider the value of being attentive as a core part of their actions, shaping how they interact with others at work or within personal relationships.

4. Why is working with values important in psychotherapy?

Working with values helps increase psychological flexibility and assists people in leading more meaningful lives by aligning actions with what truly matters to them.

5. Are there exercises used to identify personal values during therapy?

Yes, therapists may use metaphors for values, questionnaires or other exercises designed by experts like Russ Harris or Lundgren to help individuals uncover their true values.

6. Can focusing on our own set of unique

values have broader benefits beyond personal gains?

Focusing on one’s own set of unique values positively impacts various aspects including physical health, relaxation practices and contributes broadly even within the workplace.

What Are Values In Acceptance And Commitment Therapy
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