• Different Bodies: Deconstructing normality

Different Bodies: Deconstructing normality

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ISBN 9781915220318
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‘A revolution is underway in how we think about human variation. It has the potential to transform the social and political landscape, sweeping away walls and fences that stop so many people from fully participating. Psychotherapy should be in the vanguard of this revolution, but it isn’t,’ writes Nick Totton in this bold analysis of human difference. His aim is to challenge and also help the reader who self-defines as ‘normal’– be they talking therapist, body therapist, client or anyone else – to interrogate their own normality, and hopefully to relinquish the word and all the privileges it brings. It is time, he writes, ‘to dismantle that identity, pull down that statue, abandon that high plinth and rest on the solid ground of difference’. Then, he argues, psychotherapy practitioners may be in a position to learn from their clients how best to work with them.

The book addresses differences of bodily capacity, gender and lifestyle differences, differences of skin colour and neuro differences. It also tackles differences between the human and non-human beings who inhabit the Earth. Totton’s call is for recognition that we share this planet, and that creating standards of ‘normality’ leads to exclusion as well as inclusion, with all the psychological and other harms that brings.


Part one: Making a difference
1.  Normality creates difference
2.  Able – to do what?
3.  Every body is different (differently)
Implications for therapy (Part one)

Part two: Other-wise
4.  Bodies of thought
5.  Different other-wisdoms
6.  Every body is other-wise
Implications for therapy (Part two)

Part three: Becoming plural
7.  Gender trouble
8.  No one is just one
9.  Multiple choice
Implications for therapy (Part three)

Part four: Becoming animal
10.  Homo superior?
11.  Joining In
12.  Unseparate
Implications for therapy (Part four)


Clinically, this book is a must-read. Nick Totton wants therapists to be aware of their destructive potential if they fail to manage the idea of normality in their work – and in their lives. Some readers might protest that they are just too sophisticated to believe in any such notion. They are wrong. If we are honest, we are often servants of the normal. We ignore the shadow implications when we refer to ‘appropriateness’ or ‘maturity’ or ‘individuation’ or ‘the depressive position’. Crucially, we need to see through the idea of tolerance to recognise that difference and plurality is all there is. Totton has managed once again to blend theory and practice to the benefit of clinicians of all levels of experience. The book is a call for discussion and for action lest we continue to do damage while seeking to do good. 
Professor Andrew Samuels, author of Persons, Passions, Psychotherapy, Politics

In this radical and beautifully emancipatory work, Nick Totton dismantles the concept of ‘normal people’, shows how the cultural construction of ‘normality’ lurks at the root of multiple forms of social power inequality and alienation, and makes a compelling case for abandoning the whole notion that anyone is ‘normal’ so that we can more fully embrace human variation and equality. Although Totton is a noted psychotherapist and concludes each section of the book with insights on integrating these ideas into therapy, Different Bodies is really for everyone – a must-read for students and professionals in the social sciences, for educators and managers, and for anyone who’s ever thought of themselves as ‘normal’ or worried that they weren’t. Written in clear, friendly, accessible language, this book is a crowning achievement of Totton’s long and brilliant career – a book with the power to change lives and help us to usher in a better tomorrow. 
Nick Walker, PhD, author of Neuroqueer Heresies

This groundbreaking book offers a necessary re-orientation for body psychotherapy that challenges from the inside notions to do with normativity. I read it with relief, finding in it anchors and stepping stones to explore what inclusivity means from an embodied intersectional perspective. I appreciate the searingly enfleshed way Totton challenges us to look at our biases, reminding us that the main site of oppression is in our bodies, and that our cognitive bias towards the normative body has to be resolutely unpacked so that there is a possibility of critiquing and changing our own somaticism and normativism. I see this work as essential reading for psychotherapy students. It will be on our reading list for sure. 
Anne Marie Keary , Course leader, Body and Intersectionality, Minster Centre, London

In Different Bodies, Nick Totton takes the bubbling concerns, challenges, identified and unidentified blindspots in perceptions of bodies, gathers the threads and pulls the whole concept of embodiment forward in one agile movement. This book is deft, provocative and refreshingly alive in its engagement with the fast-developing field of thinking about diversity. This is an astute synthesis of ethics, therapy, social justice, philosophy, feminism, queer thinking, anti-racism, disability theory, neurodiversity research, literature, political analysis, ecology and much more… Totton manages the extraordinary feat of being both erudite – with a stunningly broad range of references – and yet very down to earth and clear in his writing. He addresses the complexities, contradictions, and the endemic prejudices that have shaped our modern culture. But – to use his image – he is willing to pull down the statue. He re-examines the foundations and proposes – with humility and full acknowledgement of others’ contributions – new ways of thinking and languaging around many aspects of diversity. This is a book everyone needs to read – it goes so wide that I guarantee no one can say they understand all this or they have heard it before. Nick Totton brings into the foreground the voices of a dynamic, articulate, colourful, rebellious and celebratory countermovement. This is a radical updating of what embodiment means and can be.
Roz Carroll, co-editor of What is Normal? Psychotherapists Explore the Question

Different Bodies is an invitation and clarion call to go beyond questioning and reflecting into a far deeper and more vulnerable place of confronting our own pictures and ways of processing. Nick brings everything he has to this invitation – his passion, strength, determination to understand more, his humility and his humanity.  He also brings a compassionate understanding of how he, you, they and I can struggle to embrace our much-needed relational development. I experience his book as inviting me into the unknown, over and over. It is a glorious and difficult challenge, framed in the honouring of many writers, thinkers and activists and moving what is seen as the marginal to the centre. I am deeply grateful for Nick's critique and his support for us all to do better.
Carmen Joanne Ablack, President of European Association for Body Psychotherapy and Director of Psychotherapy Gestalt Centre London

Nick challenges our concepts of normality, normal bodies, normal brains, normal genders and invites us to examine ourselves, rather than focus on others. Exploring gender and neurodiversity is very on-point, and for therapists this is absolutely essential reading right now. The book is informative and challenging. Heartily recommended! Especially if you are cisgender, heterosexual and neurotypical.
Dominic Davies, trainer, clinical sexologist and practice consultant, founder of Pink Therapy 

Nick Totton’s Different Bodies is a welcome contribution to psychotherapy. It invites us to question what counts as normal and how ideas about normality impact psychotherapeutic work with clients. Using critical race theory, disability studies, queer theory, transgender studies, body and animal studies, Totton asks what it means to be human. He advocates for a turn to animals and animal studies along with nature to displace ‘human supremacy’ in the psychotherapeutic encounter. This book will be of interest to psychotherapists interested in ethics, environmentalism. and social justice. It will also appeal to those who live by choice, or necessity, outside and apart from white, masculine, cisgender, able-bodied, and heterosexual ideas about normality. 
Sheila L. Cavanagh, Professor at York University, Ontario

Nick Totton

Nick Totton has been a body psychotherapist since 1981, and an ecopsychologist since 2004. He has previously authored 11 books, including Wild Therapy (now in its second edition), Body Psychotherapy for the 21st Century and Psychotherapy and Politics, and edited several others, including Vital Signs: Psychological responses to ecological crisis (with Mary-Jayne Rust). Nick has developed trainings in two new forms of therapy – Embodied-Relational Therapy and Wild Therapy, both of which are now being continued by other trainers. He has a grown-up daughter and two grandchildren, and lives in Sheffield with his partner.

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Nick Totton