This Shrink Think post starts a series I call Normal or Not.  Part of my blogging stems from my narcissistic need to share what some call would call my intellectual property. Narcissism can be healthy or not health, normal or abnormal.  Think my sharing is healthy, at least I know it ups my good feelings about my life.  Here is one addressing the question of  Normal or Not?

What makes me think I am qualified to post on this subject.  I am a retired professor and taught graduale level courses on this topic at Columbia Univesity School of Social Work. I was one of the first social workers allowed to teach one of those  courses; for years they had been taught  only  by pyschiatrists. I  always gave my students extensive Lecture Notes.  Students would write me years later saying they conintued to read and re-read notes from my classes Those lectures notes are part of what I will be sharing on this topic.

We all want to be mostly normal or at least not be seen as  “INSANE.”  Why else do we keep some things secret.  But normal is a shaky definition made up of nature, nurture, and culture.  You could  be a perfectly normal by most standards while earning your living as a torturer in any some places or at some times.  Think of the Inquisition if no others come to mind.   Cultures can be abnormal, but this is more about you and I.

Lily Tomlin says “Normal is a cycle on my washing machine.”

Worth a good laugh, but represents one side of the ongoing debate about what is normal behavior.  The other side seeks to offer scientific definitions.  The American Psychiatric Association offers its opinions in the  Diagnostic and Statistical  Manuel  of Mental Disorders. This is in its fifth revision and many oppose its use at all.   I don’t, never did and some dismissed what I had to say because I thought the DSM a useful guide and essential if you planned to work in the mental health field.  For many years I was the only professor detailing the DSM at CUSSW.

If viewed as a  guide based on some gathering of facts but never as the  word,  research and books based on research  have value.  One of the current complaints about the DSM  is that it needs constant up dating.  Well, yes.  AND so does my GPS.  Another constant compliant is that new labels are getting added every year.  Well, yes, and my GPS gets new roads and places mapped every year. I don’t rely on my GPS alone, but it has its values.  I feel the same about the DSM and think everyone working in a helping professions does better if they have some guides about normal and not normal behavior other than intuition or personal experience.  That’s where I stand on this controversial subject.  I also believe all mental health consumers need to be educated about how Shrinks Think.  Hence this topic on my blog.

I was almost fired from a number of jobs because fairly early in my career, I began to read the DSM with anyone I was trying to help who had been diagnosed by someone..  Really got me in trouble for a while.   Thankfully, that has become more widely accepted.  So I am also offering my Shrink Think posts to the public as well as professionals.  Paraphrasing a well-known ad: “An educated consumer is the best user of mental health services.”  So you can read this first Normal or Not post on my blog’s Shrink Think Page and let me know if you find it helpful.  Just press the like button if you do.  That will help spread the word to more and more consumers.

I also taught my students to keep in mind when looking at research–it deals with groups of people, not individuals and when dealing with an individual, one needs to look at them through a lens not dictated by any pre-judgements, but still informed by a number of opinions.  I look at maps before I travel to unfamiliar territory as well as use my GPS.  I make it where I am going 99% of the time with no hassle.  Hope these lecture notes clear the air for you about the idea of normal or not and whether there is any use in the DSM or psychiatric labels.

Normal or Not? 

Share, care, and stay strong.


  1. Pingback: What is normal? | IT's My Thoughts

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