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Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya 47

VALUE ISSUES IN THE HELPING RELATIONSHIP

Rafldah Aga Mohd Jaladin


Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling
Faculty of Education
University of Malaya

Noh Haji Amit


School of Psychology and Social Work
Universiti Malaysia Sabah

Nilai dan perhubungan menolong tidak dapat dipisahkan kerana


perhubungan menolong melibatkan individu dan individu mempunyai
nilai mereka yang dipegang sepanjang hidup. Kaunselor dan pakar
psikoterapi perlu mempertimbangkan isu-isu nilai semasa memberikan
khidmat kaunseling kepada klien. Konflik boleh terjadi apabila klien dan
kaunselor mempunyai nilai yang berbeza. Sekiranya klien menggunakan
nilai bela diri, kaunselor perlu menggunakan nilai tersebut sebagai
petunjuk jalan untuk meneroka perkara atau masalah utama klien.
Kaunselor terikat dengan etika kaunseling dan Akta Kaunselor. Justeru,
beberapa langkah dan panduan disyorkan untuk membantu kaunselor
dan pakar psikoterapi menangani isu-isu nilai terutama sekali untuk
memberikan perkhidmatan kaunseling yang berkesan kepada klien.

To take refuge in a claim of being scientific and thus unbiased is to deceive


one's self, and to avoid the issue by claiming neutrality is to take a position
of naive realism. Counseling is a process of deep human involvement
between subjective valuing beings, and even at the outset of a counseling
relationship certain values are presupposed. The counselor becomes a
philosopher, often perhaps without recognizing it.
(Peterson, 1970, p. 2)

The above statements illustrate the modern dilemma faced by many counselors,
psychotherapists and others involved in the helping professions pertaining to value issues.
Values are complex matters and to date there is no consensus ever achieved by researchers
on the exact definition of values. The definition of values varies across fields of studies
(Halstead & Taylor, 1996). Thus, it is hard to come up with one absolute definition that is
agreed upon by most writers and researchers in counseling and psychotherapy. However,
for the purpose of discussion, value is defined as:
48 Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya

a learned belief so thoroughly internalized that it colors the actions and


thoughts of an individual and produces a strong emotional-intellectual re-
sponse when anything runs counter to it. (Peterson, 1970, p. 2)

The issue of values permeates the therapeutic process. Counselors and psychotherapists
may encounter many value questions in their professional work such as value conflicts
and defensive values. More specifically, they have to address and deal with three main
issues: (a) the possible impact of their values on their clients, (b) the effect their clients'
values will have on them, and (c) the conflicts that may arise if they and their clients have
different values.
If counselors fail to resolve these issues, there are some potential fears that they
might encounter in the counseling session such as (a) the uncertainty of imposing their
values on the client; (b) rigid adherence to their values thus creating discomfort and
difficulties that could ruin the client-counselor relationship; or (c) the possibility of value
conflicts that could lead to a referral dilemma: to refer or not to refer. Among these, value
conflict is the most fearful situation in counseling because it may lead to the termination
of the helping relationship if and only if it is not resolved properly.
These are challenging tasks that counselors and psychotherapists have to manage
because individualistic values may influence their daily functioning. At the same time,
they are also helping professionals whose works are governed by the code of ethics and the
legal acts. They have to preserve their own values without consciously or unconsciously
reflecting them in their questions, statements, or opinions.
What are the possible steps and guidelines to use if the counselor and the client
have different values pertaining to religion, sexuality, moral or political views? This
question is faced by many counselors, psychotherapists and others involved in the helping
professions.
This article shall discuss value issues in more detail and also present three
potential sources of values that may affect the helping relationship: life experiences and
philosophies, spirituality and sexuality. Some steps and guidelines are proposed to help
counselors and psychotherapists in better handling value issues.

A Brief Historical Background

Since the early 1950s, there appears to be a growing interest in value issues and the
helping relationship (Peterson, 1970). This indicates that values are very significant
in counseling and psychotherapy. The importance of values can be understood from a
theoretical perspective when theories of counseling were developed. The first force of
theory development was a period of active techniques where the therapist assumed the
responsibility of pressing the client to a new decision. This was the common view of
the early psychoanalytic movement, and a "correct" and "proper" value orientation was
assumed and set by the therapist, who then attempted to shift the client to "wise" and
"healthy" decisions. In the second period there was a movement towards techniques of
neutrality, detachment, and non-interference. This was true of the neo-psychoanalysts,
with even greater abstinence from intervention developed by Rogers. In the third period,
there appears to be a trend toward active techniques once again (Patterson, 1989).
Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya 49

Several reasons have been attributed for this trend. First, it is now recognized that
counselors cannot be value free or neutral within the counseling relationship. Second,
since they cannot be neutral, they must recognize themselves as an influence upon their
client. This influence is something unavoidable. Third, it appears that modern society is
at risk from great disruption of value stability. This may result in the disintegration of
values, which is detrimental, thus adversely affecting society as a whole. As Eric Hoffer,
u recognized-philosopher stated, “Broken habits can be more painful and crippling than
broken bones," and "disintegrating values may have as deadly a fallout as disintegrating
atoms" (as cited in Peterson, 1970, p.l).
Another plausible explanation for the great importance given to understanding of
values in the helping relationship is their influence in the counseling process. This can be
viewed according to two main perspectives: the client's (in which values may be used for
defence purposes) and the counselor's (which involves the counselor's values as a person
and as a professional).

Values as Defences

Based on clients' perspectives, values can sometimes be used as defences (Hultman,


1976). This normally happens to involuntary clients who come to see counselors because
they are being referred to by their superiors or any significant others. Hultman (1976)
explained how and why clients use values as defences.
It was found that clients tend to use defensive values for several reasons. First,
values can be used to meet the clients' own needs. For example, values are capable of
facilitating approach behaviors towards constructive goals, as when a person who values
education goes to school. However, values can also be used to promote escape or avoidance
behaviors, as when a person who believes school is potentially threatening does not go
to school. Second, it appears that defensive values stem from irrational beliefs. Thus, the
tendency to use values to escape uncertainty and fear depends to a great extent on the
irrational beliefs people have about themselves, others, and life in general. For example,
a person who believes that he is a failure tends to use that belief to avoid doing any tasks
given to him.
How can counselors tell when a client is using values defensively? Hultman (1976)
gave three indicators of defensive values:

1. defensive use of values is indicated when clients put a great deal of energy
into some areas of living while avoiding other important areas altogether;
2. defensiveness is indicated when values are not linked with constructive, goal-
directed behaviour; and
3. defensiveness is indicated when values are held in a rigid, dogmatic, or
obsessive manner.

All these indicators are very crucial in the helping relationship and failure to detect at
least one of these may affect counseling process effectiveness. Clients have reasons for
using defensive values and the failure of counselors to detect these reasons would be
detrimental to the helping process. Thus, counselors have to be extra careful and make a
50 Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya

special effort to notice how the client's values enter into the helping relationship because
if defensive values are being used, counselors may use these values as the most direct
route to uncover the client's central concerns or problems.

The Counselor's Values as a Person and as a Professional

Based on the counselor's perspective, the understanding of values is also very important
in the helping relationship for the counselor as a person and as a professional. As a person,
a counselor, like any other human being, possesses his or her own set of values that may
influence daily functioning. As Buhler (in Peterson, 1970) stated:

One cannot live without encountering the problem of values. Certainly, one
cannot go through psychotherapy without becoming involved, implicitly, or
explicitly, in the problem. Nor can one be engaged in psychotherapy as a
therapist without bringing certain convictions about values into one's work.
These convictions may or may not be specifically communicated to the
patient, but they underlie the therapist's activity; they help determine the goal
he sets for himself and his patient; and they are consciously or unconsciously
reflected in his questions, statements, or other reactions, (p. 123)

The above quotation also indicates that the counselors' values may also affect their
professional work especially when it involves the ethics of imposing one's values on the
clients (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2003). Counselors are governed by counseling ethics
and the Counselors' Act. For example, in Malaysia, counselors are not only governed by
the code of ethics of the Malaysian Counseling Association (PERKAMA), but they are
also governed by the Counselor's Act 1998 (Act 580) (Lembaga Penyelidikan Undang-
Undang, 1998) that may have some legal implications.
Thus, counselors are constantly cautioned to be aware of how their personal values
influence their professional work. They must always be cautious not to impose their
personal values on the clients because when this happens, it is likely to interfere with
the objectivity needed in counseling besides violating counseling ethics. It should be re-
emphasized that a philosophy of counseling is an organized system of values and that
these values will influence the counselor's goals as well as the counselor's techniques
(Corey et al., 2003; Peterson, 1970).

Value Conflicts

Value conflict in a helping relationship occurs when the counselor and the client have
different values pertaining to certain issues. For example, value conflict may happen due
to differences in religion (Badri, 1979), sexuality, moral and political views. Normally,
when value conflicts happen, counselors face a referral dilemma whether to refer the
client to someone else or not. Corey and Corey (1998) suggested the following:
Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya 51

Referrals are appropriate when moral, religious, or political values are


centrally involved in a client's presenting problems and when any of the
following situations exist: the therapist's boundaries of competence have
been reached, the therapist has extreme discomfort with a client's values,
the therapist is unable to maintain objectivity, or the therapist has grave
concerns about imposing his or her values on the client, (p. 72)

In such cases, it is advisable to refer the client to a therapist or counselor who does not
have such limitations or to one who shares the client's values. However, it should be
emphasized that merely having a value conflict does not necessarily require a referral
because it is possible to work through a conflict successfully. Corey and Corey (1998)
suggested that to deal with a referral dilemma of value conflict, counselors should have
self-awareness and self-determination regarding their own values and the role these values
pTaylh theirpfofessional work.

The Possible Sources of Value Conflicts

Many possible sources of values may affect the helping relationship. Some examples of
these sources are economic and social status, age, sexual orientation, language, religion,
political view, and so forth. However, this paper focuses on three important sources of
potential value conflict, namely: differences in life experiences and philosophies, spiritual
and religious values, and sexuality.

a) Values pertaining to differences in life experiences and philosophies.

When one is referring to differences in life experiences and philosophies, it could mean
that one is referring to one particular issue, for instance, cultural values. Culture is a
complex phenomenon. It is characterized by between-group (example: geographical
location, ethnicity, race, etc.) as well as within-group (example: age, gender, religion, etc.)
variations. A person who belongs to one particular culture has certain life experiences and
philosophies that belong to his group or society (Corey et al., 2003). A counselor and a
client may come from similar culture, almost the same culture, or totally a different one.
Thus, knowledge and understanding of cultural values are essential if the uniqueness of
any cultural group is to be fully grasped, appropriate interventions are to be developed,
and cross-cultural interactions are to be understood (Carter, 1991).
However, previous empirical investigations have shown that although there are
between-group (e.g. western vs. eastern) and within-group (e.g. age, SES, education,
etc.) variations in cultural values, both have significant effects in human interactions,
communications, and involvement (Carter, 1991). Thus, there is one pending question to
pose to the counselors: can they help people whose experiences, values, and problems are
different from theirs by tuning in to their feelings and relating them to their own? Corey et
al. (2003) illustrate several case studies that indicate possible conflicts in life experiences
and philosophies such as working with (a) an elderly person (b) a person of a different
racial, ethnic, or cultural group, (c) a physically handicapped person, (d) a delinquent or
a criminal, (e) a person who is abusing alcohol or drugs, and others.
52 Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya

When a conflict occurs in terms of life differences and philosophies, a referral


dilemma may arise: to refer or not to refer. If one chooses to refer, the dilemma will end.
But if one chooses not to refer, there are advantages and disadvantages to be considered.
Not referring helps counselors to widen their professional experience in working with a
wider range of personalities or population. On the other hand, it concerns the ethics of
imposing one's values on the client. However, this can be remedied if one is willing to be
open to diverse viewpoints, not accepting other people's values as one's own but be secure
in one's own values and really listening to people who think about life differently in order
to have deep understanding (Corey et al., 2003). Corey et al. (2003) further elaborated that
"really listening," means listening with the intention of understanding the clients' values
regarding what the values are, how they arrived at them, and what meaning the values
hold for the clients. Lastly, counselors must be able to communicate acceptance or have a
willingness to let their clients be who they are without trying to convince them that they
should see life the way the counselors do. If counselors can have this accepting attitude,
it can significantly broaden them as a person and as a professional. However, the question
will then arise: how does one determine who is a "culturally competent" counselor?

b) Values pertaining to spirituality and religion.

The question of spiritual and religious values, and their importance has recently been
recognized as a crucial problem within counseling. In the era of Freudian psychoanalysis,
religion and everything to do with it had been "reduced" too much (Maslow, 1964).
Today, religion and spiritual values are known to play a major part in human life and in an
individual's search for meaning. Not all people have religion because even though some
individuals claim that they are deeply spiritual, yet they are not affiliated with any form
of religion. Thus, exploring these values with clients may help them find alternatives and
solutions to their struggles (Corey et al., 2003).
Religion, psychology and counseling share many similarities although they
also exhibit many differences. Some researchers view psychology and religion as
complementary, the former focusing upon the nature of self in life and the latter upon the
meaning and significance of life (Peterson, 1970). Corey et al. (2003) contended that both
counseling and religion share similar function to foster healing through an exploration
of self: by learning to accept oneself; forgiving others and oneself; admitting one's
shortcomings; accepting personal responsibility; letting go of hurts and resentments;
dealing with guilt; and learning to let go of self-destructive patterns of thinking, feeling,
and acting. These functions, however, overlap, and when the religious problems come up
in a counseling session, numerous questions are raised. The key issues here are whether a
counselor can understand the religious beliefs of the client and whether the counselor can
work within the framework of the client's value system (Corey et al., 2003).
Religion and counseling have some key differences. For example, counseling
does not allow the imposition of counselors' values on clients, whereas religion often
involves teaching (or preaching) doctrines and beliefs to which individuals are expected
to conform (Corey et al., 2003). Hence many misconceptions regarding religion and
counseling have been noted among religious leaders and counselors. Religious leaders
have reacted negatively to counseling as a secular force, and counselors have reacted
Masalah Pendidlkan 2006, Universiti Malaya 53

negatively to religion, describing it as a defence mechanism or as a form of denial. A


book titled The Dilemma of Muslim Psychologists is a good example to address this
issue because it illustrates the conflict between Islamic religion and counseling faced by
Muslim psychologists (Badri, 1979). The question then is, how does one counsel a client
with religious inclination?
Peterson (1970) suggested that counselors should at least recognize and study
the significance of religion in personality development, be prepared in advance to deal
with religious problems as they would with any other, and clarify their own religious
feelings and values in order to be more aware of the latter's effect in counseling. In a
complex culture, it is a must to have a carefully considered value system, for judgments
of "rightness" will reflect this system. Others have proposed several steps for counselors
in order to work effectively with spiritually or religiously inclined clients (Corey et al.,
2003):
I) listen carefully in orderTo be sensitive to the needs of the"clients;
ii) understand the whole situation;
iii) make assessment for any discrepancy between the clients' religious
beliefs and their assessment of their behaviors; and
iv) use the clients' own belief system to assist them in refraining their
assessment and thus become true to their own belief system.

These are only guidelines for counseling. Counselors and counseling students should
always be cautious and extra careful when dealing with spirituality and religious issues
because spirituality and religion are culturally encapsulated existential issues.

c) Values pertaining to sexuality.

Sex refers to the biological aspects of gender or the varied forms of intimate human
behavior, while sexuality refers to the much broader and holistic concept of the complete
person (Weinstein & Rosen, 1988). Sexuality incorporates the totality of personality and
sexual characteristics, including biological, psychological, and social attitudes (Weinstein
& Rosen, 1988). Sex counseling or sexuality counseling is a process of interaction
between professionals and clients that allow the clients to explore and understand their
sexual feelings, values, responsibilities, needs, and behavior (Weinstein & Rosen, 1988).
The counselor also provides an opportunity for the client to deal with the underlying
issues that manifest themselves as sexual problems. However, can counselors counsel
people who are experiencing conflict over their sexual choices if their clients' values
differ dramatically from their own?
In most cultures, the subject of sex or sexuality is considered a sensitive issue and
a "special case" because the subject matter may evoke peculiarly inconsistent attitudes
(Weeks, 1991). For example, the Malaysian culture discourages people from talking about
sex or sexual issues in public or in front of older people. If such topics are discussed it
might unsettle the listeners especially if issues such as incest, rape, or sexual harassment
are involved. Some examples of sensitive subjects are: casual sex; group sex; extramarital
sex; premarital sex, and homosexuality.
54 Masalah Pendidikan 2006, Universiti Malaya

For many people, sex remains a delicate topic to the extent that they find it difficult
to communicate their sexual wants, especially to people close to them such as their
parents (Corey & Corey, 1998). It is undeniable that some individuals may have restrictive
attitudes towards certain sexual behaviors, and some others may have permissive attitudes.
Counselors have to deal with these attitudes regardless of whether they are consistent or
inconsistent with their own values. Again, the ethical issue of imposing one's values on
the clients may come into context and thus counselors have to be extra cautious in dealing
with sexuality issues.

Conclusion

The above discussion on values in the counseling relationship has clearly shown
that counselors cannot be value-free in the course of their work. In fact, they should
acknowledge their values when dealing with value questions faced by their clients.
However, counselors are also constantly cautioned not to impose their own values on
their clients because it violates the ethical and moral obligations of counseling and may
also have legal implications (Carter, 1991; Lembaga Penyelidikan Undang-Undang,
1998). It takes courage, honesty and wisdom when dealing with ethical and value issues
in counseling. Thus, counseling students and trainees are advised to explore this topic
further so that they are aware of the many value questions that may arise in counseling
sessions, and learn how to deal with them.

References

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