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November 23, 2017

Normalizing Our Client's Behavior

By Dr. Richard Boyum

In our culture there seems to be the Oprah Winfrey, Sally Jesse Raphael, Phil Donohue Syndrome. That is to say we tend to over-pathologize the kinds of problems we have in our culture. Abraham Maslow said that it is human nature to always find something to grumble about. He called this concept Mega Grumbles. Recently I had an eighteen year old freshman come to my office. The client was very upset because for the first time in her life she felt depressed. The individual had left home for six weeks and the relationship with her boyfriend had ended. Her feeling down and mild to moderately depressed was a normal function of the loss she was experiencing. Yet, a number of her friends encouraged in her feelings of failure, anger and resentment. They also told her that she was probably so depressed that she needed, in her words, "quite a bit of counseling."

In reality this young woman had not yet learned that certain experiences in life are simply part of living. As social creatures we tend to respond to stimuli around us. Very often in our everyday life through the media, newspaper and well-meaning friends normal experiences are over-pathologized. All the goals of counselors to help put client problems in a more appropriate frame of reference. Positive reframing or normalizing of problems is a way of empowering clients to change in positive directions and take control of their lives. Often simply indicating to clients who have been through a rough period in their life that the worst is over and that the next stage of resolution is really the easy part is enough to empower the clients and move them off of their stuck point. It is extremely important that counselors transcend the tendency in our culture to over-pathologize and label normal kinds of disruptions in human experience as pathologies. In so doing, we allow our clients to truly move in the direction of becoming what they are meant to be... fully functioning human beings and unique in their own right.