Vitalija Lepeshkene (Lithuania). Values in Psychotherapy: Happiness, Truth and Aesthetics
Psychotherapy as activity is closely related to values. Traditionally, values are considered to be the subject of ethics. In this article, a different approach to values in their phenomenological aspect is offered. The emphasis is on the way the analysed values are developed in the client’s life and manifested during the process of psychotherapy.
Happiness. Psychotherapy rarely speaks of happiness directly, but happiness is often meant, even when described using other words. One of these notions is the concept of ‘psychic health’. As psychic health draws on both psychology and medicine, that is, empirical sciences, it allows us to analyse issues related to happiness from a clinical standpoint.
Life that brings pleasure is related to the capacity for living based on one’s values – the conscious and integrated, and not the declared ones. In defining values, Carl Rogers maintains that values are the things we value. In psychotherapy, the emphasis is also on the content of the client’s values (what is valued) and the process of evaluation (how clients achieve their assessment and what prevents them from living based on their values). The process of psychotherapy raises the questions focusing on the study of values: What does the client really value? How does he/she determine what is and what is not important? The value and significance of which things does he/she fail to notice or ignore? How are the client’s values influenced by the givens prevailing in his environment?
In its search for answers to these questions, psychotherapy is based on finding out and discovering what is the truth in relation to the client and his/her situation in life.
The truth discovered and noticed during the process of psychotherapy does not always lead to the sense of happiness, if we understand happiness as pleasant and light life. Unconscious fear of the possibility of facing the truth can sometimes cause a person to avoid psychotherapeutic assistance.
If a person finds the truth about him/herself, about his/her life situation and relations with other people, he/she will have a need to take up greater responsibility. It may be manifested in both relatively simple situations and those that substantially change the direction of one’s life.
The humanistic-existential tradition acknowledges the fact that open confrontation with one‘s subjective reality, embracing and acknowledging the truth about oneself is a precondition required for healing.
Thus, a contact with the truth is an essential component of psychotherapy. By focusing on the truth, psychotherapy is based on the conviction according to which if a person’s behaviour reflects his/her truth, his/her behaviour will manifest grace, freedom and flexibility, that is, aesthetic qualities.
Aesthetics and beauty. The place and role of beauty and aesthetics is analysed in the context of psychotherapy even rarer than such values as happiness and truth. Rollo May states that beauty is the experience gained by the sense of joy and peace, while it also increases one’s sense of being alive.
The sense of fear, which a person has undergone as a child and later repeatedly feels as adult, may hinder the experience of beauty. The sense of fear, overcome during the process of psychotherapy, and the regained sense of dignity gives back the lost capacity of ‘hearing the stars sing’.
By its definition, the word aesthetics is etymologically related to senses. We believe that these sense become the subject of attention for psychotherapists rather rarely, but realising them may open the essence of relations with a client and his/her emotions, as well as enrich one’s perception of oneself.
Situations when clients turn to psychotherapeutic assistance combine a certain sense of being stuck, a sense that choices are very limited or there is no choice in life at all. Clients feel that they cannot react to their life situations and its exigencies creatively.
Psychotherapy shows ways from the state of being stuck to the vision of various possibilities, to realisation, that is, to an aesthetic and creative approach to life. Using the metaphor of a road, we can affirm that, if the state of being stuck is overcome, a road branches out, and every branch is exciting, causing anticipation, but not fear: while it is not known what is beyond each new turn in the road, a person becomes curious and open to a new experience. Openness and curiosity depend on the level of anxiety a person is prepared to embrace.
In psychotherapy, as in life, all values are integrated: happiness, truth and beauty.