What if disorder was normal?


Since starting with acceptance and commitment therapy some years ago, I've had a really strong passion on the way that we view our clients and their experiences. Whether you're a psychologist, counsellor, social worker, occupational therapist, or someone who works with people, how we go out and view our clients, our friends and our family really changes the way that we treat or support them. In this video I wanted to look at a particular paradigm that resonates with me and I'm really passionate about, and that's the paradigm of ...

"What is normal?"

Just for a moment I want you to hold the idea that everything that came to you, in your clinical room, in your clinical setting was normal.

A client comes to you and says that they're hearing voices, voices are other than their own and those voices are telling him to go out and do things. Rather than going out and categorising and putting that into an 'auditory hallucination' or considering that it's a schizophrenic type of presentation, what if we put this down to one of many experiences a human being can endure.

When we hold the experiences of voices (as in this example) as being normal, it kind of means that we don't have to go out and push them away. We don't have to get rid of them, we don't have to try and challenge, argue, and remove, but rather we can look at how workable those voices are. How helpful are those thoughts to me based on my values and those things that are important to me. That's an interesting paradigm.

The paradigm moves away from trying to get rid of experiences and calling them abnormal or wrong. The new paradigm says that it's perfectly reasonable and normal to have those experiences and that we don't need to try and get rid of them.

Likewise if someone has a bad dream, we don't try and get rid of the bad dream. We go out and understand it as a dream. Dreams can sometimes be difficult and just like when a child says they're frightened from experiencing a nightmare we don't say that they "shouldn't have" nightmares. We pick that child up and we say, "here, here, it's okay" and we give them a cuddle and we comfort them.

Let's look at human experiences as being normal rather than abnormal and whether it's workable, useful or effective, or not so helpful, not so useful and not so effective based on the values that someone holds.

If we worked with thoughts and experiences in that way how would we treat our clients? Would our client have schizophrenia, or would they sometimes hear voice other than their own?

When that voice shows up, do we need to get rid of it? Do we need to fight it? Can we understand that the voice is there while still moving toward those things that are important to us?

We don't fuse with the thought and we're not trying to get rid of it or avoid the discomforts, but rather we accept them as being part of our life.

Just like if you we out on a really cold winter's day we would accept that it's cold. We don't try to get rid of the cold. We just allow it to be there.

A bit of food for thought, perhaps, for the next time you are working with a client.

String Nikolic