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Connecting with Your Values as an Aspiring Psychologist

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

by Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

Welcome along to The Aspiring Psychologist Blog. This blog post is an adaption of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast Episode 42. So, if you prefer, you could also listen to this content! You could also go on YouTube to watch this values exercise!

Currently in the UK, there is a lot in the media about grief and grief hangovers following the Queen's passing. Personally, and professionally, people have been talking to me about the effects of the media - the dour presentation, music and reflective things we are subjected to living in the UK.

It can feel tricky because we know it doesn't always feel safe to be sad. For me, I try to live by my values and my values as a psychologist.

“I think that being able to tap into all of our emotions, including sadness, which is key, is very important to me, both personally and professionally.”

I'm always intrigued to know what your values are. Today, we're going to be doing a values exercise around my values using some Acceptance and Commitment Therapy values cards. Why don't you see how you get on with this exercise? In fact, if you'd like to come on and do an aspiring psychologist’s set of values episodes, let me know, and I'll have you on as a guest.

Firstly, I will pick the goal I want to work on and then identify my core values from a big set of values. So, let's get on with that and start with the life domains. You can also see these cards on the YouTube video of this content if that is easier for you.

The Life Domains we’ve got are:

  • Family.

  • Parenting.

  • Intimate partner.

  • Friends and social life.

  • Work and career.

  • Health.

  • Education and learning.

  • Environment.

  • Community.

  • Spirituality.

  • Personal growth.

  • Leisure.

As we are talking about psychology, I will talk about work and career. So, there's a massive stack of values to work through. I've picked a selection of them and whittled them down to the ones most important to me. So, in no particular order, we have:

  • Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others.

  • Contribution: to contribute, give, help, assist, share, or be generous.

  • Creativity: to be creative or innovative at work or play.

  • Trust: to be trustworthy, loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable, and or be trusting of others.

  • Friendliness: to be warm, friendly, open, accepting, agreeable, and helpful towards others.

  • Industry: to be industrious, hardworking, committed, proactive, or dedicated.

  • Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others.

  • Safety: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others.

  • Compassion: to act kindly towards myself and others when in pain.

  • Courage: to be courageous, brave, and persist in the face of fear, uncertainty, and threatening circumstances.

  • Connection: to engage fully in the moment and activity, to give the activity or the person I'm with my full attention.

  • Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded, interested, eager to explore, discover, and learn.

Out of those, I picked some top ones. Technically, we're only supposed to have three, but it can be so hard to choose!

To the rest of the values, I didn’t choose I'm going to say, "Thank you. You're very important to me, but my core values as a professional are those of curiosity, courage, connection and compassion."”

So, the next part of this activity is living your values. When I'm living by these values of compassion, connection, courage, and curiosity, how do I treat myself? How do I treat others? How do I treat my body? How do I treat my work and education? How do I treat my interests or hobbies, and how do I treat the world around me?

So, how do I treat myself? I very much practice being compassionate these days. That is something I didn't really have along my journey to being an aspiring psychologist. So, in the upcoming Aspiring Psychologist book, myself and the other people within that book encourage you to be self-compassionate. I think that is absolutely key.

“We have a foreword by Dr. Chris Irons in the book as well, who is one of the very leading voices in self-compassion and Compassion Focused Therapy right now.”

It's a real privilege to have him in the book. I'm very grateful he said yes! That is one of my values as well - courage. I was courageous enough to ask Dr. Chris Irons and he said yes. I have similar courage with my clients, like when having difficult conversations. I have the curiosity to explore that in a way that doesn't feel intrusive and still feels respectful. We have that connection. I have this almost palpable visceral connection with my clients and those I work with. That's really, really important to me. I treat others with compassion, demonstrate my courage to myself and others, and am curious about myself.

I'm quite reflective generally. So, I speak to you today whilst I've been to a funeral. Part of the grief continues. I'm hoping that will be it for us for now, for the next foreseeable.

“I'm curious to hear about others' lives and learn about others.”

I was recording a live before I started this podcast, and I saw that my postman was back after a very long period of what I was assuming was sickness absence. I stopped the live to go and talk to him. I was curious about him because I have a connection with him, I am compassionate towards him and courageous. He told me his story, and I ended up singing him the song that my children had made up about him, about where he might be. It was his name and the different country names where he might be. They were trying to make sense of where the postman had gone. He very much enjoyed that! He said he would try and add a few more verses before he next saw me about the countries that he could have been in but wasn't. So yeah, I try to be curious with everybody really.

Interests or hobbies. I don't feel like I've got many at the moment. It's mainly writing books which is taking a lot of time. I'm going to the theatre tomorrow, and I'm also going the next week, which is entirely accidental scheduling. I guess, am I going to be curious about that? I'm curious because I'm going to see something I don't really remember wanting to see. Yet apparently, I did agree to go. It is Mamma Mia. I'm not hugely looking forward to it. It's also my wedding anniversary, and ordinarily, I'd said no to going out on my wedding anniversary day. So, I'm curious about that and how that will be. My sister-in-law said, "You've got low expectations, and you're easily pleased." I think that's going to be the case for this musical I'm going to.

So how would I set goals in the next 24 hours, in the next week, in the next two weeks, month, year and decade? A decade is a big one, isn't it?

“I would want to continue to be connected with others. Although, I do lots of passive stuff, I will always do one-to-one client work because it's really important to me to have that sense of connection and to be able to help demonstrate my skills in compassion, curiosity, and courage.”

So, in the next decade, I hope to see clients still and hold onto those values that will very much keep me grounded and focused. I really liked that when I was working in the NHS some of the people in more senior management still kept a very small caseload. I guess they did that for the sense of connection and purpose. It was really important to them to be doing their core profession. I absolutely think that I would've been the same as well. So, I probably would've been, if I'd progressed and progressed, the chief exec but still see three clients a week because it was really important to me to do that. So yeah, I've got an idea of where my work is going. I would like to do more training in Compassion Focused Therapy and continue my supervisory relationships for connection and curiosity.

So how will I encourage my values, and who else would I like to encourage these values in? I'd very much like to encourage the values of compassion, courage and curiosity within my children. I think that's really important. I blobbed a river full of tears when I went to my eldest child's first merit assembly in reception. I think he would have been four. He was given his merit, and they mentioned his kindness a number of times. Teachers came up to me afterwards to tell me what a kind little boy he was and how thoughtful he was to his peers and staff. That just really moved me. It was really wonderful.

“Kindness is the most wonderful thing. But kindness isn't the same as letting people walk all over you.”

It isn't. We can show kindness without being a doormat. He's certainly nobody's doormat now that he's nine, but he's still very much reported as a really nice member of the class who gets along with people and is a pleasure to teach. Let's see what they say about his little brother. He's a little bit more of a handful.

How can I model these values? Well, it's really tricky actually. As a mummy, I try to be compassionate, but I'm not always super patient. And that’s something for me to reflect upon. How can I increase my patience to my pre-grief levels? So, before 2017, I feel like I was more easy-going. I had more patience, but the children are older now and less compliant. When I ask my eldest to go and brush his teeth now, I get, "One sec. One sec." Then I prompt again a couple of minutes later because we're trying to hustle out the door, and I still get, "One sec." And it's like, mummy can ask you calmly and quite nicely about three times, but after that, I'm not going to be quite so calm. I absolutely used to be really into gentle parenting.

“I would still get on board with the philosophies of gentle parenting, but I found it easier when I just had one child but trickier with two.”

As they both started growing and wanting different things, I found it a bit trickier. On a great day, I’d still say I'm a gentle parent. I would tend to hope to say that I was compassionate and connected most of the time. But when my youngest is trying to climb me whilst I'm trying to make breakfast, literally he climbs me like I'm a tree and he's a monkey, its cute to begin with, but when you're trying to butter toast and stuff, it's a bit annoying. I would like to think that I don't want the children to think I'm disconnected from them or not compassionate towards them because I've got other things to do, and I'm not as patient as I used to be.

I think maybe curiosity is something I could do with a bit more of for the kids. They will often tell me things I don't know about, like Roblox or football. It's not my specialist subject! It's not something I'm super interested in. But that's certainly something I perhaps, now that I've identified my values, will try to gently increase, and broaden that dialogue a little bit more.

“How can I initiate or teach or instruct these values?”

Well, I think I do that really well in my one-to-one work, absolutely modelling that compassion and the connection and exploring the fact that it's safe to try courageous things in our sessions that you may not have done before. I encourage them to be curious and see whether we can take that outside the therapeutic space. I absolutely encourage these values in you as aspiring psychologists as well. That is absolutely the case within The Aspiring Psychologist Membership, The Clinical Psychologist Collective and The Aspiring Psychologist Collective. I may be lying flat, in a dark room, and absolutely exhausted. But even then, I am courageous in putting this book out there and curious what you guys will think about it. I am connected because this is what you want. You've told me this is something you want to read. So, I'm listening to my audience.

I'm being compassionate because it's very tricky to be the provider of mental health services in a mental health emergency, which it feels like we are currently in the UK as a result of many factors, such as the pandemic. I can continue to help my members in the membership to be curious and courageous and connect with myself and others and with the clients they're working for compassionately.

How can we reward these values when you see them in others? When I see people reaching out to their network and being connected, that's something really to celebrate. When I see they're doing things courageously, like being sad when they don't usually feel like it's safe to be sad, that takes real courage and compassion.

“We're absolutely checking into and tapping into sadness as a really important part of human emotion and knowing it is safe for us to do.”

The final exercise is twisting values. That's the idea that our minds can easily twist our values into rigid or unhelpful rules. So, can we notice any of these classic twists:

  • I should do this.

  • I have to do that.

  • I must do that.

  • That is the right thing to do.

  • That is the wrong thing to do.

Remember, there are no good or bad, right or wrong, and shoulds or musts in a value. I think that probably comes up more with my parenting than it does with my professional life. I am compassionate. I try to make sure that I am not over-cramming my diary. I have certain slots in my diary each week for one-to-one. Once they're full, they're full. I've always worked that way since being in my first qualified role, which was a choice and partnership approach. So, there was job plan, and everything was very predictable. That really set me up well for being boundaried with my time, compassionate to myself and clear about what was coming and what was next. I really like that way of working. That's the way that I continue to work. I might well record a podcast episode on job planning and how I use that because I absolutely still do that now.

“Sometimes the compassionate thing to do is to say no to things. So, if you get invited to things but you don't want to do them.”

Like a musical I went to. My sister-in-law loved the musical and wanted to see it, but nobody else fancied it with her. We had a lovely time. Sometimes, so long as it's not harmful to us, we can do things that we're not super thrilled with, and it might lead to a great outcome for us too. My father-in-law really loves Mamma Mia, and so maybe part of my reason for being courageous was to see him really enjoying himself. That might be part of my reason for saying yes to something that I wasn't that thrilled about. I try not to be too harsh on myself. One of my friends has about three or four full-time jobs, and I'm always trying to encourage her to do a little less, which is ironic for a lady who does as much as I do.

How have you found this? There is more to this exercise, but I don’t want this content to be too long. But how have you found that? Did any of my values map onto yours? Are there any missing for you? Why don't you jot down your thoughts and share them on the Aspiring Psychologist Community on Facebook? Join us there and let's discuss this episode and what it might have evoked for you.

During the DClinPsy application season, the membership is open without waiting on the waiting list. So, if you do want to join us, please do so. It'll be a pleasure to have you there. We have a mindfulness course running from September until November 2022. It's an eight-week program. If you dive in now, you can absolutely come and watch the first one on replay, but then you can come along to all other seven sessions live. It's going to be so wonderful. People in the membership are really looking forward to it.

“We can help make this your most compassionate, mindful application season yet.”

Please do like and subscribe both on the YouTube channel and on your favourite podcast outlet of choice. I am going to get myself a nice cup of tea. I don't often allow myself to drink green tea with lemon anymore. Clipper is my favourite because caffeine doesn't always love me, but I'm feeling that after a day of sadness and reflection that what I'm going to do next, before going to get the children, is make myself a nice cup of green tea with lemon in my favourite mug. I'm going to sit on the sofa, and I'm going to mindfully enjoy that. So yeah, sometimes we can take small moments of self-care. Self-care is not always face packs and manicures but allowing ourselves a little bit of decompression time to tell ourselves that we are special. We're doing a good job. We deserve to be looked after. How might there be some flex in your day to look after yourself?

I hope as ever this has been useful for you. You'll be very pleased to know that with the birth of the new book, The Aspiring Psychologist Collective, there might well be another jingle in the pipeline, which is always very exciting. I haven't even heard it yet. I’m very much looking forward to sharing that with you too. Thank you so much for being part of my world, and I look forward to catching up with you soon.

To listen to The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast, click here.
To grab your copy of the Clinical Psychologist Collective Book, click here.

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