“Abnormal” vs “Normal”: How do you draw the line?

I recent began reading a piece of literature called “Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Abnormal Psychology,” Fourth Edition, by Richard Halgin. Halgin breaks down the reading into three separate parts: psychological conditions and treatments, the trend towards biological interventions, and social issues.

In the preface, Halgin explains how abnormal psychology “lends itself well to a discussion of controversial issues” because of the difficulty associated in defining the concepts “abnormal” and “normal” (xv). I agree with Halgin on this point. Concepts that are social constructions tend to be influenced by a number of factors such as culture, biology, time period, social context, and gender roles. When working with clients and everyday life affairs, these definitions can wage a war in a person’s head begging for a decision to be reached as new information is constantly taken in and decisions/judgements need to be made.

Over the years as my knowledge base and professional experiences increased, I found myself trying to find a general definition for “abnormal” that allows room for flexibility; a definition that is not black and white, but allows shades of gray to exist. Also, at the same time the definition allows structure to exist in order for comparisons and conclusions to be made.  I have yet to create a definition that satisfies my thoughts on “what” abnormality is.

However, I have brainstormed the following characteristics to define “abnormal.” One, any behavior, thought, and/or emotion that puts a person and/or others in harm. Two, any behavior, thought, and/or emotion that interferes with a person’s and/or others’ overall well-being. Three, any behavior, thought, and/or emotion that goes against well established social/cultural norms or constructions. Four, any behavior, thought, and/or emotion that goes against self-preservation. These are just guidelines I formulated to guide my own interpretations and decisions. I still believe when working with people/clients practice should be based on client-centered approaches, but a worker must be aware of and incorporate (if needed) established norms.

Halgin suggests the following when defining any client behavior, thought, or/and emotion that the following criteria must be evaluated:

a. distress

b. impairment

c. risk to self or other people

d. socially and culturally unacceptable behavior(s).

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