Robin Skinner: Mental Health Scale

Show me a normal one, and I’ll cure it.”

“The normal person is an ideal target for losers – for all those who are below the general level of adaptability.”

Carl Gustav Jung

One of the most misunderstood things about psychotherapy is that if you turn to a psychotherapist for help, it is proof that you are not normal, that you are mentally ill. Such attitudes lead to unfounded feelings of inferiority and failure, failing to see the most important thing, namely that the time has come for change. That what is perceived as a failure at the moment may later turn out to be the most valuable thing in our lives.

The most common reason for turning to a psychotherapist is going through a crisis – a sign that the time has come for change. It is natural for the destruction of the old to be accompanied by suffering, but pain is not a disease . It is only a sign of development, as well as an expression of the fact that the answers we are looking for cannot be obtained from our current way of thinking or from the way the average person thinks. In such a time of crisis, we need a new kind of knowledge, and the provision of this kind of knowledge is an integral part of any therapeutic work.

As you will see below from the Robin Skinner Mental Health Scale, not only is there a significant difference between mental illness and mental suffering, but as a rule, it is developing individuals who are more prone to more frequent crises and periods of suffering. We also tend to equate “normal” with “average”, but the average does not coincide with normalcy (otherwise we will have to assume that corrupt practices in government are an expression of normalcy!). Moreover, human development does not happen by maintaining the status quo, but by changing it – by destroying the old and creating something new.

Robin Skinner, a well-known English psychotherapist, introduces a new concept of mental health in his book, The Life and How to Survive. It reverses the traditional approach in psychotherapy, which derives the definition of mental health according to what is the opposite of mental illness, looking for it after the characteristics of people who show high levels of success, happiness, personal satisfaction and full relationships with family, friends and colleagues. In the analysis of the data from a psychological study of such people, which lasted for many years, a new definition of mental health was reached. The definition of mental health ceases to divide people into sick and healthy, but becomes a dynamic scale with criteria for low and high levels of mental health,

According to this scale, the so-called average person, which we usually use as a standard of normalcy, is simply averagely healthy.  Norms that do not say what is right and what is wrong stem from a social consensus about a group of people at a given historical moment. But the status quo is subject to change, and being normal by the average doesn’t mean you have high levels of mental health. Moreover, the few individuals who have really high levels of mental health may be perceived by people in the middle range of the scale as “abnormal” because they look suspiciously happy, well-meaning, and free. This happens becauseeach level of mental health has its own value system (set of beliefs and rules), according to which other levels of mental health are less valuable.

At the bottom of this scale are the individuals for whom life is a struggle . These are people who use immature or neurotic defense mechanisms that detach them from contact with reality. This group itself can vary widely and includes both people with schizophrenic, antisocial or manic behavior and individuals with depressive or neurotic behavior who have less distorted perceptions of themselves and others, but still have significant communication difficulties. you are with them. What this group has in common is that they strongly want to become like the others, ie. to join people from the middle range of the scale. These people cover about 20% of the population in developed countries.

Characteristic of the mental well-being of people in the middle range of the scale is that they have achieved a certain degree of stability due to the clarity of who they are and what they are, ie. unlike the previous group, they know their “boundaries.” The problem with them, however, is that deep down they are not quite confident in their ability to keep what they have achieved. They are still worried that they may lose stability and clarity if they are not clinging to them. Therefore, what they have in common is stiffness . All of them – attitudes, opinions, beliefs and principles, are firmly entrenched so that they do not lose control. These people cannot relax completely. They suppress their emotional reactions and lead a kind of equal, joyless and tightly controlled type of life. These people cover about 60% of the population of developed countries.

In contrast, extremely healthy individuals and families have perfected the ability to live to such a degree of confidence that they can leave everything to chance and simply enjoy their experiences. It is spontaneity, goodwill, confidence, a strong connection with reality, living to the fullest, are the main characteristics of people with high levels of mental health . This type of people makes up the remaining 20% ​​at the top of the mental health scale, with only 5% of people being “extremely mentally healthy”!

Now, I hope, it’s clear why “normalcy” in the broadest sense of the word is far from mental health, isn’t it?

Another interesting fact from the cited study is that the more mature an individual is, the more open he is to psychotherapeutic help . This is because he is aware of his limitations and therefore has a greater desire to improve his situation. For example, at a later age, 40% of those observed in this study had already gone to a psychotherapist for one reason or another .

In my experience as a psychotherapist, the dominant type of clients who turn to the services of a psychotherapist are people from the middle range of the scale. These are people who feel confused by their own differences, who suffer from the limitations and rigidities of the average model of thinking, but at the same time do not have a family and cultural model to give them the appropriate answers to the questions that the crisis of change which they pass is opened. Although they realize that the way industries are grown is no longer relevant, it doesn’t work, they don’t know exactly what the alternative looks like. Or, if we go back to our question – they do not know if they are abnormal and their environment is right by accusing them of wanting too much from life, or vice versa.

I remember a client of mine who shook me because she was unhappy in her marriage and on our first date asked me, “Am I crazy to believe that there is a happy marriage after all or are my friends right when they tell me to be patient and not want too much from life? ”And what I mean is that there is still a happy marriage. And that we can all be much happier than the average statistical levels of happiness that we see in the homes of loved ones, acquaintances and especially in our own family, but for this we will have to work on ourselves – to explore our thinking, our beliefs and ideas, with which we are branches and some of which we do not even question.

As Robin Skinner writes, although the best way to achieve a high level of mental health is by being born into a very healthy family, individuals born into unhealthy families also have a chance to reach the top of the scale. According to the study he presents, by the time people with a more unsatisfactory childhood reach their fifties, they function no less healthily than people who lived very happily in their childhood. This fact is due to the fact that these people first admitted that they were missing something, and secondly, they looked for experiences to compensate for the initial deprivation.

My client was right to believe that there could be happy married couples. Her friends were also right to tell her that the vast majority of families did not really have particularly high levels of happiness, intimacy, trust, openness and freedom. I am also right – I have many reasons from my personal and professional experience, to say that happiness – personal and family, is not the privilege of only a few lucky or chosen by God, but an opportunity that can be achieved by anyone.

As it has already become clear from the mental health scale – the prevalence of something is not a criterion for the fact that it is the best. It is just a sign that it is average. Psychotherapy can help a person get rid of the rigidity of the average levels of mental health, on a deeper level to find out who he is and what he wants from his life, as well as take the risk of living, daring to be different. Moreover, it is precisely these individuals who, through their own efforts, succeed in bringing about change to higher levels of mental health, subsequently become agents of change in the families and groups to which they belong.

We live in a time when society itself is sick and there is a great need for the average notion of normalcy to change. Who thinks that psychotherapy is not for normal people ?!


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