Recovery without normalisation: It's not necessary to be normal, not even in psychiatry

Clinical Ethics 18 (3):298-305 (2023)
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In this paper, we argue that there are reasons to believe that an implicit bias for normalcy influences what are considered medically necessary treatments in psychiatry. First, we outline two prima facie reasons to suspect that this is the case. A bias for ‘the normal’ is already documented in disability studies; it is reasonable to suspect that it affects psychiatry too, since psychiatric patients, like disabled people, are often perceived as ‘weird’ by others. Secondly, psychiatry's explicitly endorsed values of well-being and function are hard to measure directly, which is why we see simpler box-ticking conceptions of recovery used in large research studies. This need not be problematic, but might lead to researchers and clinicians focusing too much on treatments that promote easy-to-measure proxies for recovery, instead of what actually matters to psychiatric patients themselves. Next, we provide examples of treatments and treatment decisions within two areas – self-injury and psychosis – which are hard to explain unless we assume that an implicit and harmful normalcy bias is at work. We conclude with some suggestions for clinicians and future research.

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