free will, therapy, theory of agency, culture, ethics


Informed by personal and professional cultures, clients and therapists inevitably hold various assumptions and attributions about the possibility of free will. Given that these “theories of agency” may not always align, and in light of the ethics codes for psychotherapists and counselors, it is imperative, as a matter of cultural competence and responsivity, that therapists seek training in understanding different cultures of agency. To that end, and to help therapists navigate cultural differences and mitigate the risk of personal and professional values imposition, this article provides a conceptual framework for organizing the common formal and informal theories of agency that clients and therapists regularly bring into their work together. Given that traditional conceptual frameworks tend to obviate the possibility of genuine free will, and in light of the likelihood that many clients and a number of practitioners practice a faith in which agency is of critical importance, the conceptual framework offered here reflects a contextual approach to agency that replaces causes with constraints and includes theistic perspectives. This framework is elucidated and applied to several common personal and professional theories of agency to illustrate how conflicts can be identified and ethically managed in a way that is sensitive to cultural differences.