Are we getting back to normal? What is normal? I think it’s quite a tricky concept. The dictionary defines normal as typical, expected, conforming to a standard. But our own definitions of normal are perhaps as individual as we are, shaped by our particular experiences. What’s normal for me might not be for you – and vice versa.
Clients often ask me if they are ‘normal’, perhaps because they fear madness. But I wonder whether a desire for normality, both inside and outside the consulting room, is also a way to express a dread of judgment or exclusion. Perhaps it’s also a craving for the comfort of the customary.
People now talk about the ‘new normal’, as if to acknowledge that things have changed, but at the same time to assert that things have stayed the same. Maybe after months of uncertainty and upheaval, many of us yearn for the soothing aspects of the known and familiar.
Relationships can offer us the comfort of the familiar – not least our relationships with animals. Dr Christine Rhodes explains the benefits of animal assisted therapy. Research demonstrates that animals can provide relief from stress and emotional support, as anyone with a pet no doubt knows.
Aiden Duffy works with people whose normality is persistent pain. He explores the role of the romantic couple in managing the psychological effects of chronic pain. It is a moving description of the damage that pain can inflict on a relationship, but also of the possibility of reparation and reconnection.
What is normal for someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? Maybe it’s normal to feel anxious, caught in an endless cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsive rituals. OCD is a complex condition that is often misunderstood, potentially affecting clinical outcomes. Lauren Callaghan offers a treatment model, which helps clients to control their OCD by accepting and embracing their anxiety.
Long waiting lists for NHS psychological therapies are typical, expected – normal. It is one of the frustrations of working in a healthcare setting. So, it’s good to hear of a possible solution. Agnieszka Sikorska describes the work of a mental health facilitator, giving people quick and easy access to professional support.
David Morgan explores the concept of nostalgia. He explains how it can be used in both a personal and a political context to defend against loss and deny the present. I wonder if our memories of normal life before the pandemic are false? Perhaps we have created a nostalgic fantasy of an idealised past in order to shield us from the sometimes harsh realities of the present.