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On Being Normal and Other DisordersReview - On Being Normal and Other Disorders
A Manual for Clinical Psychodiagnostics
by Paul Verhaeghe
Other Press, 2004
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Jan 2nd 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 1)

   On Being Normal is a sparkling book that will likely engulf readers' attention with flames of intense scholarship, with respect to psychodiagnostics.  Sole author, and brilliant writer and researcher, Professor Paul Verhaeghe is a professor of psychoanalysis (at the University Of Ghent, Belgium).  Through the medium of this fascinating, and intensely contemplative, book, Verhaeghe immerses the reader in the daunting profundities of psychodiagnostics.  Those who will accept the challenge of reading this quite abstruse book in highly attentive fashion should emerge feeling greatly refreshed with knowledge and insights, impinging on psychoanalysis and psychopathology.

   It cannot be gainsaid that Verhaeghe is an unapologetically tough, intellectual interrogator, who is unafraid of plunging headlong into the seemingly fathomless theoretical and empirical waters of mental suffering.  Wielding a highly critical, but also quite perspicacious and brightly intellectually illumining, saber, Verhaeghe methodically cuts a swath through a thicket of thorny issues, attached to mental centric malaise.  The theoretical musings, of Verhaeghe, are rooted, deeply, in the soil of Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalytic thought, and, to some measure, are filtered, introspectively, by Verhaeghe, through the prism of empirical research data.  Metaphorically, Verhaeghe, in workaday manner, meticulously builds a bridge, connecting psychoanalytic theory and empirical research findings.  The overarching focus is on clinical psychodiagnostics, with an emphasis on the tedious constructing of a metapsychological theoretical framework.

   Although Verhaeghe often proffers distinct views and preferences, he also appropriately acknowledges the possible legitimacy of variant approaches, with respect to sundry intellectual tasks undertaken arduously in the text.  There can be no reasonable doubt regarding Verhaeghe's stunning brilliance and contemplativeness.  Nor can there be serious dispute that this strikingly esoterical, and prolix, tome is a seminal contribution to the psychodiagnostics literature.

   Structurally, the textual contents are trifurcated, into three parts.  Multitudinous footnotes, sometimes quite terse but at other times rather lengthy, interestingly and instructively embellish the text.  Multifarious research references additionally contribute, materially, to the text's academic potency.  The injecting of some clinical fragments, into the textual body, serves an edifying purpose, as well; indeed, a heavier dose of clinical anecdotes would not have been unwelcome.

   An important thematic thread, tying together the chapters comprising the book's first part, is the perceived salient need for the sturdy erecting of a metapsychological, theoretical foundation.  The skilled demarcating of the respective bounds of clinical psychodiagnostics and medical diagnostics garners Verhaeghe's rapt attention, in chapter one.  In chapter two, Verhaeghe proceeds to expound, in recondite fashion, on the psychodiagnostic enterprise, when cast in the framework of scientific study. The genesis of the system known as the "DSM" (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is broached, also.  The artful weaving of a complicated tapestry, revealing the structurally determined epistemological impotence of psychodiagnostic categorization is accomplished in chapter three.  In a somewhat turbid, meandering way, Verhaeghe, in chapter four, sketches brief outlines of various paradigms.  In the last chapter (chapter five), of part one, Verhaeghe takes direct aim at clinical psychodiagnostics bound conceptually to the ensuing treatment.  Pitfalls to avoid, in the quest for a metapsychology useful for clinical psychodiagnostic purposes, and positive characterizations for treatment, are subjects painted adroitly by the firmly unyielding and skilled brush of Verhaeghe.

   In part two, Verhaeghe endeavors to germinate the theoretical seeds planted earlier, in part one; and toils away at providing some useful elucidation of the pivotal relationship binding the subject and the Other.  The theoretical influences of Lacan and Freud reverberate powerfully through the pages of this textual part.  The coming into being of the subject in relation to the Other, particularly in the context of  the primary mother and child relation, is sewed  assiduously into the fabric of chapter six.  A rather intricate, involved elaboration of the mechanism of defense is the crux of chapter seven.  At the heart of chapter eight is an adumbration of a circular model, pertaining to becoming a subject.  Chapter nine tinges the textual body with a measure of neo-Darwinist discussion; and rivets attention on the identification of an evolutionarily grounded purposiveness in human behavior.  Part two's last chapter examines anxiety, guilt, and depression in the framework of psychodiagnostic theory and metapsychology.   Interconnections, of anxiety and depression, with guilt are exposed tellingly.

   In the book's last part, Verhaeghe works hard to fathom diverse pathologies, especially concerning structural relations of the subject with the Other.  Panic disorder and somatization, for instance, draw centerstage attention in the masterfully written chapter eleven.  Tentacles of Verhaeghe's attention extend to an examination of the Freudian description of anxiety neurosis.  Post-traumatic stress disorder, together with borderline disorder, are the cynosure of chapter twelve.  The central argument, propounded by Verhaeghe, is that an understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as borderline personality disorder necessitates a very clear stress on actual pathology.  The subjects of hysteria and obsessional neurosis, and their attachments to psychopathology (with vestiges of Freud and Lacan insinuated into textual crevices), are taken up in chapter thirteen.  Perversion, particularly perverse structure and perverse traits, are dissected and examined painstakingly, in chapter fourteen.  Finally, the heart of the tome's last chapter is an attempted unraveling of some of the mysteries of psychosis.  Verhaeghe studies carefully the structural relation of the psychotic subject toward the Other, with a focus on the Other as language. 

   Indubitably, this very impressive book is immensely enlightening and revealing regarding the innumerable intricacies, and attendant opaqueness, enveloping psychodiagnostics.  At the same time, the subjects broached by Verhaeghe in many instances suffer from inadequate empirical study; the labyrinthine complexity of human behavior is highly elusive of lucidity of understanding; and discussions steeped heavily in Lacanian and Freudian thinking will, most likely, remain forever unfinished.

   Clinicians and researchers ensconced in the expansive mental health realm, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts, should be greatly gratified, intellectually, by Verhaeghe's stellar contribution to the continually growing field of psychodiagnostics.


© 2005 Leo Uzych


Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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