Is there such a thing as valueless therapy?

by Nathan Chua

As I work with different people who have varied backgrounds and views about the world, I am compelled to show respect to each one’s “values” and culture.  By respect I mean, an approach that neither judges my client’s values nor imposes my own on them.  This reminds me of the age-old debate about the possibility, or impossibility of a valueless approach to therapy.  The familiar argument against those who believe that it is possible, is that the mere use of a valueless approach is itself, a value.

Of course, I am not here to speak as one who has done in-depth research on this difficult question.  I am simply now presenting what my years of work and my continuing studies have taught me.  I think part of the answer lies in our ability to distinguish between what is a value, and what is a social convention.

As people, we necessarily hold certain “values” about the sanctity of human life, and the importance of human dignity (Unless of course, one is stricken with a sociopathic disorder), as inviolable and inherent.  We have the gift of empathy towards others and a desire to alleviate suffering among our fellow creatures.  I say creatures because our empathy is not just directed to our own species.

In this post, I would like to offer a place where we can partly rest our spirits, in our quest for the best approaches available to the helping therapist who, faces a variegated set of cultures and backgrounds in every meeting with a client, or clients.  A good approach to this problem would be to consider the difference between what are human values, as against what are human social conventions.

I for one, am a strong advocate of the need for us in the helping profession, to make the alleviation of suffering as our paramount concern.  For it is due to their emotional suffering, that our clients seek our help.  Allow me to use an example to elucidate this point.  Although having a gay relationship may, by the current conventions in our country, be accepted by a smaller proportion of the population, the value I have for minimizing human suffering, will make it necessary for me to assist such members of society, without hesitation, and with as much fervor as I would show with any heterosexual couple.  To illustrate with an analogy, if I were a surgeon, it will be the least of my concerns if my patient were gay or straight, trans or not trans.

I hope this short post on this complicated issue, makes us more aware of the decisions we make every day in our relationships.  As many of our misgivings and tribulations in our relationships, can be traced to a lack of awareness, of what truly can be considered values that we share.  For in the end counseling is really about a human-to-human encounter, at its core and deepest levels.