Abnormal (or not)?

Not many people outside the world of psychiatry and psychology will have heard of DSMV. This is a massive American publication and is the psychiatric bible not only in America but many other countries too. DSMV stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Edition 5 and at close to a thousand pages is a substantial work indeed. Here you will find listed every conceivable state of mental ill health. This whole area of study is officially known as ‘abnormal psychology’.

In DSMV there is a label for every state of mind you could imagine, and some you probably could not. Psychosis, schizophrenias, depressive states, anxiety states, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, paranoia, plus every kind of perversion. It is so comprehensive that as others have cryptically remarked, even if you regard yourself as mentally fit you won’t have to look far before you find a perfect description of yourself.

However, among all the thousands of labels for so-called ‘abnormal’ states of mind there is a glaring absence. There is no description of a ‘normal’ state of mind. This is because in the wonderful world of psychology no-one can agree on a definition. So there isn’t one.

This then begs the question, if we don’t know what normal is how can we possibly know what abnormal is? After all, something must be defined in terms of what it is not. It must be the opposite of something, but the opposite of what?

Of course, if normality doesn’t even exist it means abnormality can’t exist either, which then puts the whole term ‘abnormal psychology’ into question.

In fact, in my 34 years as a psychotherapist and counsellor I have found most mental distress is a result of unhappy or traumatic events or circumstances that we would logically expect to create a ‘mental injury’ of some kind. After all, if someone falls off a ladder and suffers a broken leg we might say the person was unlucky, or even careless, but we would be unlikely to say they were abnormal.

But there we have it. Mental illness and those who suffer from it have a long history of being thought of as abnormal, and the title in psychology persists. Things are changing but it’s a slow business. And it’s unlikely to stop the next edition of the DSM being even bigger than the present one.

You are more than a label. Check out ‘I Just Want To Be Happy’ on Amazon or the e-book version on this site.

 

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2 thoughts on “Abnormal (or not)?

  1. sandra ryder

    I did a BSc (Hons) a few years ago and my dissertation was on delusions. I found it interesting that something is only considered a delusion if the religion or culture they were brought up in or live does not support what the person is experiencing. So if you were brought up to believe in demons and you see demons in theory you are sane and need to see a holy person. You would not be labeled schizophrenic . Made me relook at many aspects of history. Also someone once said if you are rich and behave differently -you are eccentric -if you are poor you are suffering from a mental disorder. Myself I think its only if your beliefs upset you enough, so you find living difficult, or your actions (rather than beliefs ) upset a lot of people, or come to the attention of the authorities as risky, that people get labeled as needing psychological help.

    1. Adrian Blake Post author

      Yes, very true, high spirits or hooliganism depends a lot on the social class of the person exhibiting that behaviour. Byron visited an ancient site in Greece once and while there he carved his name on it. Far from it being disapproved of, many visitors to the site now make a special point of looking for his name. As I wrote once, a label often says more about the person doing the labelling than it does about the person who is labelled.

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