Each time I reflect upon this film, the same image enters my mind: Bruno putting on the striped “pajamas” and entering into Shmuel’s world, a world that is abnormal to Bruno but normal for Shmuel. What defines normal? According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, normal is “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern” (NORMAL, 2010). Based on this definition, Bruno’s father’s actions were normal because he conformed to the standard set by the Nazi regime. Also, the father perceived his actions as appropriate and normal. Therefore, normal is also defined (and possibly limited) by our perceptions of the world in which we live. As my husband told me the other day, life and our perception of it stems from the prism of our own expectations. Bruno expected every little boy to be free to run and play just as he did. Therefore, when he interacted with Shmuel, he perceived Shmuel’s life to be abnormal and attempted to normalize it by fitting it into his prism of expectations (for example, asking Shmuel, “Why do you wear pajamas all day?”). Also, as our prism of expectations expands, so does our definition of normal. This changed definition can drastically alter our lives, just as it did for Bruno’s mother and sister, Gretel. But return to the image of putting on the pajamas. As a counselor-in-training, I want to learn how to put on my clients’ pajamas. I want to enter into their worlds and fully grasp their prisms of expectations – especially those clients who suffer from “abnormal” mental health issues. A story that I read in an article for a class last semester that clearly illustrates this concept follows: Milton Erickson once had an interaction with an individual who was hospitalized for having a “Christ” delusion. Instead of attempting to convince this particular individual that he was not the Christ and that he was having a break with reality, Erickson said to him, “So, they tell me you are a carpenter.” (C.J. Sheperis and S.F. Sheperis, 2002, p. 310) This particular client wore the pajamas of delusion. Other clients may wear the pajamas of schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, or anorexia nervosa. As counselors, let us clothe ourselves with the pajamas worn by our clients. After all, how can we work together to develop a treatment plan unless we put on their pajamas, climb underneath the fence, and expand our prism of expectations? References NORMAL. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 8, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/NORMAL Sheperis, C.J. & Sheperis, S. F. (2002). The matrix as a bridge to systems thinking. The Family Journal, 10, 308-314.
Courtnay Veazey is a graduate student at Mississippi State University pursuing a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling and working as a graduate assistant at MSU's Career Center