In social work practice universalization is a supportive intervention used by the therapist to reassure and encourage his/her client. Universalization places the client’s experience in the context of other individuals who are experiencing the same, or similar challenges, and seeks to help the client grasp that his/her feelings and experiences are not uncommon given the circumstances. The therapist or social worker using this supportive intervention intends to “normalize” the client’s experience of his/her emotions and reactions to the presenting challenge. By normalizing the client’s experience the therapist is attempting to help avert the client’s natural feelings of “being alone”, or that “no one understands me”.
For example, a therapist working with a 21-year-old client who is experiencing rejection from her family and friends after admitting that she is a lesbian will use universalization. The therapist will explain that many other young adults who have revealed their sexual orientation undergo the same rejection and scrutiny from peers and parents. The therapist will follow this up by telling her that her emotional response to the rejection is likewise normal and not at all uncommon given the circumstances.
- Mattaini, M.A., Lowery C.T., & Meyer C.H. (Eds.) (1998). The Foundations of Social Work Practice (2nd ed.). Washington D.C.: NASW Press.
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