What Things Really Matter to You?

When I think about how to best help someone, I am reminded of what psychiatrist Irvin Yalom found when he asked 20 clients what was most beneficial to them about their time in therapy (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). The average client had spent an average of 16 months in therapy, and was just about to finish up.

The top four categories of responses they gave consisted of:

4. Self-understanding: learning more about thoughts, feelings, the self, and their origins

3. Cohesiveness: being understood, accepted and connected with a sense of belonging

2. Catharsis: expressing feelings and getting things out in the open

1. Interpersonal input: learning more about one’s impression and impact on others

Out of the 60 individual statements that the clients could endorse, they most often endorsed statements about therapy helping them to:

  • Trust other people more
  • See and experience the benefits of revealing embarrassing things and taking other emotional risks.
  • Learn how they come across to other people and the impression they make on others
  • Learn how to more effectively express positive and negative feelings, including towards others
  • Be honestly told what other people think of them
  • Be able to say what is bothering them instead of holding it in
  • Discover previously unknown parts of themselves and accept things about themselves or their past that were previously difficult to accept.

If you look at the above lists, you will notice that most of the highly endorsed benefits of therapy are difficult to obtain individually outside of greater self-understanding and awareness.


Many of the true benefits of therapy are the result of taking emotional risks and being honest about things that are really bothering you or you are concerned or unsure about. The rest of the benefits come from the acceptance, understanding, feedback and connection that the therapist gives back to client, as well as the quality of the therapeutic relationship they have together. If it is group therapy rather than individual therapy, the other group members can provide many of the benefits that the therapist might in individual therapy.

Because the quality of the relationships in our lives has such a large impact on how happy and healthy we are and become, it makes sense that many of the key benefits of therapy are also relational. If you would like to improve the quality of your relationships, making the investment in therapy could potentially be well worth it for you in the long run.


If you are 100% satisfied with how all the key relationships in your life are going, and you feel like all of your needs are being met in these relationships, then it may be less important for you to undergo person-to-person therapy.

Self-awareness and understanding and more internal cohesiveness and acceptance can also be developed through reading books or taking online courses. Or, as I have previously mentioned, can also be developed by taking personality assessments that help you to answer the question “who am I?”, including the five-factor personality model.

Once you have a good sense of who you are, it is then important to ask yourself “what’s most important to me?” This can be done by taking the VIA character strengths survey, or doing any form of values clarification exercise, such as the ones I outlined in the article ‘what values do you try to live your life by?‘ and ‘three steps to an improved life‘.

Photo by Mayu on Pexels.com

Another values clarification exercise that I tried the other day was recommended to me by a client. It can be taken for free by clicking this link.

Firstly, it asks if you understand what an intrinsic value is. Once you know that it is something that you value not for what it can give you, like money, but in and of itself, you are ready to take the quiz.

The quiz then asks you about a bunch of different values, and then gets you to say if it is an intrinsic value to you or not, and if it is, how important it is to you.

Once you have answered all of the questions, it asks you to pick your top seven values in order.

For me, my most important values were as follows:

  1. That I show courage in the face of difficult challenges
  2. That I am grateful for what I have
  3. That I achieve my full potential
  4. That I experience a sense of meaning and purpose in my life
  5. That I feel connected to other people
  6. That I have agency and can make choices for myself
  7. That the way I behave is consistent with my values

You are then asked to reflect on each value and see how you might be able to create more of what you value in the world.

I already ask myself the question “what am I being motivated by here – my fears or my values?” when I am feeling unsure or uncertain about what to do.

A similar question that I heard about in the book I was listening to yesterday called ‘Four Thousand Weeks‘ by Oliver Burkeman was “does this decision help to enlarge my life or diminish it?” Sometimes our brain wants us to do what feels least scary or most comfortable. However, the author recommends choosing the option that is scary or uncomfortable but is likely to enlarge your life over one that is comfortable but is likely to diminish your life over time.

What Are You Likely to Regret More?

Joseph Campbell says that the hero’s journey begins when the main character is called to action by something unexpected at the end of the first act of any good story. The second act of the story begins when the hero answers the call to action and goes off on the adventure, not entirely sure how things will turn out but willing to face whatever challenges may come. Hopefully, they continue to keep learning and growing and eventually prevail and succeed. Or they can choose to not answer the call, stay where it is safe and familiar, and not get to experience the adventures and challenges that may await.

What would you rather? What do you think you would regret the most in the long run?

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist


Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

10 thoughts on “What Things Really Matter to You?

  1. Every moment of every day is a gift. Tonight’s sunset was glorious. The people in my office are the best! I have a roof over my head, enough to eat every day, and feel very lucky to have all I need. I am far more thankful for life at the age of 72, than I was at the age of 27. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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