Ethical Dilemmas Facing Mental Health Social Workers

In practice, it is sometimes necessary for social workers to make a judgment call, and one needs to be sure they are choosing the best options to resolve issues wisely when encountering an ethical dilemma. The social work code of ethics are designed as a guide to follow in order to help aid you in finding the best resolution when possible. Circumstances will naturally be further defined or complicated as specific details arise from any number of given scenarios a social worker may face over the course of his/her practice.

Accounting-EthicsOne important key principle to emphasize is the client’s right to self-determination which means the client’s desire to make his or her own choices including finding resolutions takes priority. This is paramount whether or not the social worker personally believes it is the right decision.

Instead, it is the role of the social worker to present all of the options available, thus allowing the client to make an informed course of action. For instance, perhaps a client has a different set of personal beliefs, such as those regarding sexual orientation. The social worker will need to put any differing opinions regarding this aside as they work with the client.

This right to self-determination may come into conflict with the right of confidentiality if the subject display or express being a danger to themselves or others. If a client expresses a desire to commit suicide or seriously harm another person, the social worker has a right to disregard confidentiality, as this is now a matter of public safety. In any other cases, any personal details shared with a third-party must only occur after the client has signed a consent form. Confidentiality extends to the educational process, in which case a social worker may never use a client’s real name when recounting certain events in a learning environment. Also, social workers should remember to stay updated and educated about advancements made in the field, which will also help you maintain the continuing education credits needed for licensure each year.

When providing mental health services, it is important for social workers to make sure they have the client’s consent to treat them. Clients need to be aware of the extent of the services they will be offered as well as the obligations for payment. If the patient is a minor, then consent will need to be obtained from a parent or legal guardian. The client should also be made aware of any alternative treatment methods that may be available to them.

Another ethical consideration for social workers is to determine how long treatment is needed in order to be effective. The social worker should seek to terminate the relationship with the client if they believe that treatment is no longer in their best interest, and the social worker will also need to keep records of their work. However, you need to be sure that names of third parties are kept confidential, and they you do not violate HIPPA Laws. Social Workers should seek to protect the privacy of your clients at all times as well as maintaining a professional relationship with their client at all times.

Also, you want to ensure to limit treatment only to areas in which are trained  and officially licensed for. Leaving your own personal issues or biases out of the therapeutic process is paramount to your client’s success, and always seek additional consultation for a patient as it is needed. It’s important to acknowledge if additional guidance is needed.

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Rachael Mattice

Rachael Mattice is the Content Manager for Sovereign Health Group, an addiction, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment provider. Rachael received her bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from Purdue University. Her portfolio includes numerous quality articles on various topics published in print and digital formats at award-winning publications and websites. To learn more about Sovereign Health Group’s mental health treatment programs or watch patient reviews, visit View all posts by Rachael Mattice

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