Normalizing Symptoms: Neither Labeling nor Enabling

Scheff, Thomas
November 2010
Ethical Human Psychology & Psychiatry;2010, Vol. 12 Issue 3, p232
Academic Journal
We often make judgments of certain kinds of behavior that are virtually automatic: delusions show that one is crazy, wrong answers show that one is ignorant, and so on. The theory of labeling/normalization suggests caution in making these judgments because of the effect they are likely to have on social relationships, such as feelings of rejection and embarrassment. There is a social-emotional component in human contact that is somewhat independent of the content. Equal care is needed to avoid both labeling and enabling. The case of the poet John Clare provides an example of labeling. Two extended and three brief concrete examples of normalizing are discussed. The social-emotional component seems to be critical in most relationships, both in psychotherapy and in education, as suggested by the examples.


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