Saturday, 13 February 2010

I'm introducing: Lucien A Buck

While doing research for a paper on normality and self-realisation, me and my partner stumbled across the research of psychology professor Lucien A Buck, a paper titled "Normality, abnormality and health". In this paper he makes several references to patients with autism and patients with schizophrenia, the people farthest away from our normality and community.

But Buck argues that instead of placing a diagnosis on the abnormal and move them towards normality, we should see the individual strengths and weaknesses that exists in every person... Screw it, I'm just going to quote his abstract:

Most forms of psychotherapy are limited by assumptions about abnormality that focus on pathology while ignoring the potential for growth that exists in all. Effective psychotherapy requires respect for human complexity. Each person needs to be perceived as embodying a unique balance of strengths and weaknesses: The potential of normal people cannot be properly evaluated if their limitations are ignored, nor can individuals diagnosed as abnormal be understood by relying upon a pathology perspective. "Normalization" - psychotherapeutic practices aimed toward producing normal behaviour - can deprive people of existing strengths.
What he is saying is basically, instead of seeing people as mentally ill (With different diagnosises as the subcategories) or normal, we should see all people striving with the same human basic goals (which constitute the terms of human existence and what it means to be human) Almost no one person is entirely sick or entirely healthy. I'll quote Buck again:
"It is possible to conceptualize abnormality, normality and health as segments along a continuum of increasing capacity for managing the essential issues of living: autonomy, identity, work, creativity, propagation, aging and death."

As you can see, Buck separates normality and health: He argues that normality means letting everyone else decide on your life issues for you, resolving these issues based on conformity. Normality is an efficient way to live, but it also brings "normal problems", such as stress and age crisis.

Abnormality in life issues means you haven't given up and let society define your issues, but it isn't in your own power to define yourself either. The life issue is ruled by chaos instead of control, it is ruled by the fear of losing control of it rather than the security to evolve it and let it develop. The abnormal position is fortified one, and it means the person aggressively defends against other people's expectations and conformity which threatens to take hir over.

Health is also a sort of deviance from normality, but a balanced one. You have managed to reach your own conclusions on these life issues, and the healthy issue is characterized by originality, creativity and genuineness.

Let's draw a model to illustrate. I've chosen four issues and made a slice of someone's life. Let's call him Tim.

So instead of saying "Tim is a schizophrenic", we assess that Tim has great problems with identity, keeping a stable sense of himself and what he is, as he fears he might be desintegrated any moment. Love is really difficult as well, with no point of ego to fix it to. Tim has a great health in creativity, though. Work is alright.

So instead of trying to make Tim normal and potentially crush his creativity and alienating him from himself in the process, we should take care of his abnormal issues and encourage his healthy ones.

Let us now combine this with humanist psychology founding father Abraham Maslow's idea of the healthy, self-realising person.

According to Maslow, this person is genuine, original, brave/secure and has a healthy bit of perspective on normality. Maslow describes the healthy person as someone who "can wear normality as a coat", so to speak, put it on or put it away as sie likes. When the situation calls for it, sie can put on a tie and a suit, and respect norms and courtesies to smooth out human interactions, even if sie considers these rituals rather pointless...

For you see, the healthy person can do this without endangering hir own sense of identity and security - It takes great deal of security and confidence in your life issues to be able to venture out of the safe zone, explore the issue without fear and needing to defend your standpoint.

What really strikes me about Buck's model is that he interprets normality as being stiff, abnormality as being completely stuck, and health as a creative, playful stance. Remember what I said about impro?

I love this dude. Check out his tribute:

Next up: Life issues, sense of security and playfulness. After that, we'll take a look at life issues in roleplaying games. (flags)


Anonymous said...

I find this intuitively very appealing. The problem inheres, however, in the notion of authenticity. It cannot, of course, simply mean "being oneself", since everyone is, by definition, themselves. Authenticiy must be directed somewhere. Whither? — that is the question.

Arvid Axbrink Cederholm said...

It is a bit tricky, isn't it? I think the main point of the term authenticity is there is a difference in doing what you believe in, and doing what you haven't really evaluated deeply, just going along with the others. What do you think?

After reading through this post afterwards, I realise you can easily get the impression I'm arguing for abandoning all psychological diagnosises... I'm not, but I believe Buck makes an important point of meeting people as just people rather than deviants from a norm, especially for schizophrenics and other visibly abnormal people, who can easily be further alienated by a diagnostic label.

Just wanted to get that out there. :)w

Arvid Axbrink Cederholm said...

Yeeech! I didn't quite worked through the text this time. I've updated it now, for more sensemaking and eloquence.

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