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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Understanding Moral Values in Psychotherapy

By John Gavazzi and Sam Knapp
Submitted for publication

Psychotherapy is not a value-free experience; hence, morality plays a role in the helping relationship. The psychologist’s role in psychotherapy inherently entails more power in the relationship. Therefore, to work in their patient’s best interest, psychologists need to remain aware of the power imbalance and their potential influence on the belief systems and values of their patients. All psychologists have the ability to influence their patients in many areas of their lives including the domains of morality, values, and ethics.

In terms of psychotherapy training, psychologists need to be aware of their moral beliefs as these apply to a variety of topics in psychotherapy. Patients come to psychotherapy with diverse beliefs and backgrounds, so psychologists need to be open to the diversities of modern American life. Psychologists also need to be aware of their limits of what is acceptable versus unacceptable, in terms of their patients’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychologists and patients who have congruent belief systems rarely discuss how their synchronous values work toward a positive outcome, although congruence between the value systems of clients and psychologists is correlated with successful outcomes in psychotherapy (Beutler & Bergen, 1991).  Furthermore, research supports the idea that patient values shift toward psychologist values during therapy (Williams & Levitt, 2007). This finding is a less obvious result of psychotherapy, and typically not a planned goal of therapy. 

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