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What are Values and Why Do They Matter in the Treatment of Mental Health?

Let’s start with the first question related to what are values?

When I am doing therapy with someone, I define values as those things that are important to us that we cannot necessarily buy. This could include the way we treat others, and the way we expect others to treat us. Some examples could be family, friends, trust, respect, honesty, accountability, nature, alone time, justice, etc. Values can change and grow as we get older and experience different things. For example, a teenage may highly value their friends over their family, but as they turn into a young adult, they may shift to valuing more alone time. Values are usually influenced by our culture, media, family, religion, personal experiences, and our own instincts of what feels right versus wrong in the world. 

Now that we understand how I define values, I want to discuss how this relates to mental health treatment.

Many people who are struggling with mental health often struggle to have a sense of identity. They may continuously ask themselves “who am I?”, “why am I this way?”, or change the way they act around different groups of people. When this occurs, I like to help people explore their personal values and how these values show themselves on a day-to-day basis through their actions. For example, when someone continuously talks about feeling as if things are unfair and work to try and make the world fairer for all, I may point out that fairness, justice, and equity appear important to them. 

Values are things that continuously stay with us throughout time and can be strengthened when we start to feel lost. Often the feeling of guilt comes when we act against our values. Most of us can remember a moment when we felt that pit in our stomach when we know we did something wrong. That pit may not be alleviated until we own up to our mistakes or try to make amends. 

When exploring someone’s values, I also like to reflect on where they may have learned that value/belief. For example, someone may identify as valuing looking thin. Through exploring their personal experiences, we can discover that their parents highly valued looks and rewarded them when this was achieved. This may be a value/belief that we can work on shifting because of the potential negative impact it could have on our life.

Identity can be a fluid concept depending on who we are around, and our current life circumstances and values are something that we can hold onto in times when we feel lost or disconnected from oneself. Remembering that we are a person who values kindness, friendship, safety, calmness, and animals provide us with some life direction and way to reconnect. 

What are some of your values? Feel free to comment them below☺

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