Existential Psychology

Normalization As A Therapeutic Tool

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If the therapeutic relationship is a good one then clients will start to share aspects of themselves that they haven’t shared with others, both because they didn’t have the right words for their lived experience until now and because the guilt and shame surrounding thoughts, feelings, or behaviors thought to be abnormal compelled them to keep this information private.

So it’s usually a great relief for clients to hear that those believed to be abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors aren’t so abnormal after all, that actually they’re quite common, that many people struggle with the exact same things. It’s just that no one talks about the uncomfortable truths in polite social discourse, or even in close relationships if those truths are discomfiting enough. Everyone tries as best they can to appear normal and well-adjusted, which means repressing their strangeness.

Now, when we talk about normalization as a therapeutic tool we don’t mean the legitimization of destructive ways of being in the world. We do mean building a foundation for positive change by helping clients see, where it’s applicable, that those uncomfortable thoughts and motivations don’t make them freaks of nature but human beings struggling to face and overcome existential and cultural challenges.

Just because something is ‘normal’ doesn’t necessarily make it healthy or good for the growth and happiness of the individual, and just because something is ‘abnormal’ doesn’t necessarily make it unhealthy or bad for the growth and happiness of the individual. Because normality and abnormality are almost always taken for granted standards thought to be absolutes but in actuality relatives being measured against the relative norms and values of a given culture, and that given culture doesn’t necessarily produce healthy, growth oriented, happy individuals.

So normalization as a therapeutic tool should be used not to bring people back into the fold, into the warm comfortable womb of sameness, but rather should be used as a jumping off point for positive, growth oriented differentiation. The goal should be to help clients make the connection between their underlying existential conflicts and the ‘abnormal’, embarrassing, guilt inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they’ve consciously or unconsciously taken to deal with them. The question becomes, “What are better ways to deal with these conflicts, ways that may or may not diverge from what’s considered ‘normal’ but definitely do support the growth and happiness of the individual?”