Psychoanalysis and cultural values 



Values, evaluation, valorization

Different values are often considered as an obstacle to any kind of relationship: love relationships, friendships (Mohr and Sedlacek,2000), work relationships (Jehn, Northcraft, and Neale, 1999; Kirkman and Shapiro, 2005), helping relationships (Bergin, Payne, and Richards 1996;Burke and Miranti, 1992; Kim and Omizo, 2003; Patterson, 1989/b).Common sense looks at values as a sort of “natural” limit beyond which is not possible to go, an insurmountable obstacle, suggesting that fruitful and long lasting relations would be possible only among people who share similar background and similar values. But common sense proceeds by generalization, describing the norm, the average, and bringing the singular to the general; on the contrary, we have to proceed the other way, leaving the general for the singular, for the exception, for what falsifies the theory. And so we can pose the question differently: when are different values in a relationship not a limit of the relationship itself? Or:when does the obstaclerepresentedby havingdifferentvalues​​becomesa motorand not a limitfor the relation? Because there are cases when even distinct values do not negatively affect a relationship; what else should work in a relationship so that even different values do not harm the relationship, so that the difference become a value itself?

Values are considered something that, once acquired, cannot evolve, that can only be accepted or rejected, but not overcome. And so the values are sacred, must be respected, cannot be questioned; the other can be blamed for having different values, but still this is better than the younger generations, for example, who are often considered to have no values at all. Interesting: if values are supposed to be such insurmountable limits, then why should having no values represent an even bigger problem?



Where do values come from, and where do they tend to?

We can only go back and question what values are, where they come from. Are values expressions of a subject with full faculties of will and reasoning? Are they products of the unconscious? We cannot take values for granted: just as any other saying, values are grounded on premises, sentences, and statements. But values are not given out of speech. In most cases the subject cannot clarify nor explain the origin of his values; in most cases he will claim that they are just consequence of his free choice, of his freedom of speech, and then cause of his behavior.

Interestingly, values and beliefs often go together (Chen and Uttal, 1988; Eccles and Wigfield, 2002; Horley, 1991). We “believe in our values”. So the interesting point for us is not (only) the content of those values; the interesting point is that values in many cases require an act of belief, because values do not exist in nature. Fixed values are already a representation of value; a representation that most likely will be preserved rather than changed. Values can be accepted or not, but they are hardly put in discussion, because they often serve to give identity, they promote relationships through identification. So, what else should work in the relation to subvert this logic? Values are no longer an obstacle when the other is not represented; when the unconscious is at work values are yet to be determined. When the relation is specular, between two persons, without a third (the unconscious), there we have identification (“we are so similar, we have the same values”), or rejection (“we have different views, no relation is possible”). There must be something else at work, there must be something making the relation asymmetric, not specular, creating some room for the difference. If values are already determined and serve as terms of reference, they probably have no value; values should find their articulation, should be continuously rediscovered.

Values tie the individual and the social level together; they play an important role in structuring and maintaining a society. So we cannot just speak of ideal values, untied from any symbolic world. The central point is that values are given as effect of language, and so they have to be examined.

The value is determined by the discourse or by the speech? Very often we adhere to stereotypes, that we call our values, but which in reality are simply accepted by us. So accepted that we consider them as natural! At firstthe values ​​are those determined by conformism, and then we become conformists without even realizing it, we just assimilate the "values" that are commonly accepted.But the value cannot be ideal. "Ideal" always means out of the word, it means that everything in our lives is a negative value. The value cannot be ideal, cannot be a purpose or an end. We can talk of value when it is in action.

And again: is thevalue given asintellectual value, oras the valueof the subject?The value is theoriginal life,the value isthe original word,is the propertyof the word.The value proceeds by the quality of the word, the quality of the speech.So the value is intellectual, is value of the word, notvalueof the subject. According to Verdiglione (1998) there areinstitutions(educational or psychiatricor judicial) engagedin the administration ofvalues​​.Therefore,values are consideredas a cause.Thetruth isthe cause.Beforethere were theabsolutes values​​.Valueswerethe causesin the Western discourse:this wasthe idea,the thoughtwasstrong.Then,with theweak thoughtvalues became relative;but alwayscauses.



Values in counselling and psychoanalysis

How can different values interfere with the counseling process? What should a counselor do, when he receives a client with different or even opposite values? Should the counselor be aware of the client’s values and respect them simply not questioning those values? Most of the existing literature goes in this direction (Patterson, 1989/b, for a review): what to do with values and how to deal with them? However, when Jim and Pistrang (2007) investigated how culture plays a role in the therapeutic relationship with Chinese clients, they found that it can occur in diverse ways for different clients. At first, they found that “Despite this diversity of experiences, however, there was an underlying, central thread common to all the participants’ accounts: what they valued in therapy was having a safe place to explore their problems, with someone who they felt understood them and who was able to help them make sense of their difficulties” (p.21). This is to say that there are other qualities than a supposed “cultural match” that make the analytic work possible. It would be simpler to just say that the analyst should be listening (as intended in this study), rather than referring to a fuzzy and reified concept of cultural match. Again, following Jim and Pistrang (2007, p.22): “What was highlighted in participants’ accounts, however, was not simply the therapist’s cultural knowledge, but the therapist’s skill in understanding the client’s unique dilemmas and distress within the context of cultural values”. The clinical work cannot rely only on knowledge. Knowledge indicates that something has been acquired. For instance, a clinician may share some beliefs or cultural assumptions with his client. Or, he may know a set of theories and techniques. However, knowledge cannot guarantee listening, and in some cases it may even hinder it. “Although it may be easier for therapists to fully understand their clients’ experiences when they share a common cultural background, such matching does not automatically ensure understanding or a good therapeutic alliance” (p.23). Interestingly, Jim and Pistrang (2007) found Chinese participants who experienced a sense of freedom in seeing a non-Chinese therapist. For these participants, therapy provided a safe place to learn to express their feelings and to explore their emotional world, a process which they perceived as incongruent with their Chinese cultural heritage.

Indeed, sharing or not a culture, or a sub-culture, does not guarantee success. Instead, what can make the difference is whether the analyst is at listening, or not.Values are, like anything else, part of a discourse and so they have to be considered. The counselor is not there to determine what values are good or bad, what values are right or wrong, so values should not receive moral attention. The counselor is not there to evaluate the client, but he’s rather thereto valorizehis speech. Not evaluation, butvalorization of the singular logicis the central question (Verdiglione, 2000). The speech develops to the quality; values are not already given at the beginning, they are found while speaking. If values can be simply transferred, they have probably no value. Things proceed towards the valorization; the value comes as effect, as a rest. Some professionals might think that somewhere there is a scale of values we can refer to, values that can be accepted and values that have to be corrected, forgetting that there is no value out of the word. This is the lesson we can get from the market: value is not fixed, it proceeds by the word. Every time the value it is yet to be determined; value as effect of the negotiation, so word in act. So the counseling should give value to the word, and not treat the word as more or less valuable. It is not possible to representthe other in terms of “more” or “less”. Again: why should different values represent an obstacle to a relationship, and to counseling?If value has yet to be given, then no conflict of values is possible.



Can values represent a barrier?

Why should cultural differences represent a barrier? If there is a value, if there is culture, how could this represent a minus in the relation? A value is always a value of exchange, a value in the relation. If it comes as an obstacle, it probably has no value. And how could the difference represent a problem? The signifier itself introduces the differences, showing that the identical is not possible. The question of cultural differences is rather the question of the “culture of differences”: the culture itself cannot be a problem; culture comes as an added value to the relation. The limit is the phantasm for which we should be all the same (defence of the race), or different (discourse of anthropology), two variants of paranoid discourse (Verdiglione, 1980). The difference is not difference of the subjects; the difference is introduced by the word, is original difference. And values are effect of speech, they cannot be transferred by genealogy; values can become an obstacle when the subject tries to ground his difference on them. Such values become principles, empty words, statement used artificially to attempt control over the speech, over the Other. And such “values” become the grounds to justify wars, fights, arguments; they become functional to avoid the question of the word, and finally serve to avoid the Other. But the scope of counseling cannot be confined to the imaginary register; counseling is not a tool for supporting the fantasies of the subject. Counseling should serve to stress the so-called values, and give value, rather than supposing that values are given once and for all. These are rather “principles”, what “comes first” how the etymology suggests[1]; principles are posed as a cause, a source, as a starting point. Principles are fixed artificially out of the word, out of discussion, out of negotiation, given for granted. But values come from the difference; values (contrary to principles) express precisely the difference, and are what set the possibility of an exchange.







[1]late 14c., "fundamental truth or proposition," from Anglo-Norm.principle, from O.Fr.principe, from L.principium(pl.principia) "a beginning, first part," fromprinceps. Meaning "origin, source" is attested from early 15c. Sense of "general rule of conduct" is from 1530s. Used absolutely for(good or moral) principlefrom 1650s. It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them. [Adlai Stevenson, speech, New York City, Aug. 27, 1952]. Scientific sense of "general law of nature" is recorded from 1802.





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