Toby Shorin 5 min read

Announcement: How to Work With Values

A new course for clinicians and coaches on working with values as sources of meaning.

I am launching a new course called Values Lab alongside my friend Benjamin Gabbai. The course is designed for coaches and counseling or therapy professionals, and it's all about how to deepen work with values—the sources of meaning in our lives. Our first version of the course runs throughout August.

Values Lab - Course for Coaches and Clinicians
Bring clarity to values and guide clients towards more meaningful lives. Values Lab is a 4 week live course.

Values and meaning are themes that pervade all my past research and writing. Though over time I’ve used various terms like “ethical stances” and “moral ecosystems,” my interest has always been the way individual and cultural values shape behavior and give meaning. The question of how collective meaning arises is important in a moment when many are worried about social isolation and the so-called “meaning crisis.” Life, I believe (and have seen) can be much more meaningful. But this doesn’t require attaching ourselves to a new grand narrative that unifies our divided culture, as many quietly hope for. Grand narratives can become new traps. And they don’t address how to live meaningfully in everyday experience.

Helping people understand and practice their values is one of the best methods I’ve seen for recovering meaning from the maw of unfulfillment. Deeply knowing our own values leads to a life well-lived. But isn’t this hard to do? Aren’t values often quite vague? That’s what this course is about: how to help people get to know their values in a way that is resonant, memorable, meaningful, and concretely practicable in life. Below I want to share a bit about the course, the philosophy behind it, and what participants can expect to learn.

Coaching frameworks and some clinical psychology theories, such as logotherapy, DBT, and ACT make frequent reference to values. But in practice, values are frequently misunderstood and their power for helping people flourish is underutilized. Every day we see individuals and companies claim to hold values which their behavior contradict right before our eyes. Values seem to be something that one might aspire to, but are hard to live in practice.

One reason that values are so underutilized is that their connection to the good—the ethical, moral, and higher aspects of life—has been weakened in a number of ways. This is the argument made by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in the famous opening to his book After Virtue. In this book he argues that our moral discourse has become confused. Moral assertions of right and wrong have come to be seen as mere statements of emotional disagreement. Values appear particularly paradoxical in America, where individualist are strongly encouraged to discover our “authentic” selves and “live by our values,” yet the term “moral” has connotations of instruction and authoritarian discipline.

MacIntyre contrasts this “emotivist” stance with the idea that values or virtues are not merely personal preferences, but essential qualities that enable individuals to achieve their most realized life and contribute to the flourishing of their communities.

In this course, we take MacIntyre’s view. As human beings, we may hold values that are different than those of our family, workplace, or original faith. Discovering those values and freeing ourselves to act by them is one of the most fulfilling things we can do. Understanding our values means coming to know and live by our personal sources of meaning. But these values will never be merely emotional or individualistic; they will always be with reference to the good—the ways it feels beautiful, right, true, and meaningful for us to act.

So how do we discover what is meaningful to us—what our values are? Helping ourselves and others do just that is goal of the Values Lab course. In short, we’ll learn how values are about qualities of attention or ways of approaching a task that are meaningful. We’ll learn how to help people derive these attentional policies from the meaningful moments that have happened in their lives. We will also learn how to work through challenging emotions and elicit new values and sources of meaning from difficulties. Finally, we’ll learn how to design practices to live by these values in our everyday with others. When we do this, life can get much more meaningful!

This view of values comes from a long tradition of moral philosophy stretching back to Aristotle, including modern philosophers like MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Ruth Chang, and Joe Edelman. While the theory is rigorous, we’ve made it easy to understand and apply in practice. The course is light on philosophy yet methodical when it comes to learning the theory and practicing the techniques. From teaching this work in the past, we know participants come away not only with skills, but a deeply enriched sense of values in their own lives.

We have our mentor, philosopher and technologist Joe Edelman, to thank for making this course possible. He’s synthesized the forementioned philosophers, among others, others into a groundbreaking theory of meaningful choice. You can read more about it in his open-source textbook Values-Based Data Science and Social Design. We’ve adapted the most relevant parts of that book for this course, and learned these techniques from Joe originally. Ben previously taught these techniques to social network designers and community organizers at Joe’s endeavor School for Social Design.

The way we work with values in this course bears some resemblance to values in ACT. Clinicians familiar with ACT and relational frame theory will find some familiar elements: the relationship of values and vulnerabilities, the relevance of context, and differentiation from goals and other motives. If you already have this background or something similar, that’s wonderful. In the Values Lab course you’ll find a new set of tools to elicit values with clients. If in the past you’ve worked from lists of values, here you’ll learn dialogue techniques to find specific language that clients will resonate with and remember. Along the way there will be lots of fun partner work and exercises to try with friends and partners.

Values Lab is the first course I’m offering at Care Culture and I’m really happy to be doing it with Ben. Ben is a gifted educator and it’s been a lot of fun putting the course together with him.

A last note from me. This course is important to me because I think moral ideas are one of the vital bridges between psychotherapeutic work and spiritual communities. Both psychotherapy and spiritual work involve a healing component and a moral component. But today, the moral component of psychotherapy is largely unrecognized, while the healing component of spiritual work is viewed with suspicion. I believe that becoming more literate about values can help both therapists and spiritual communities deal with religious harm, double down on the aspirational and valuable part of the moral, and lead people to the good life.

Take the course:

Values Lab - Course for Coaches and Clinicians
Bring clarity to values and guide clients towards more meaningful lives. Values Lab is a 4 week live course.