We’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails about the upcoming changes to the ASWB exams beginning January 2, 2018. On August 4th, 2017 the NASW released the "most substantive revision to the NASW Code of Ethics since 1996" (NASW, 2017). These revisions focused mainly on social workers' use of technology and the subsequent ethical implications of such use. We have been in email communication with the ASWB about when these changes will impact the exam and our understanding is that the revised Code of Ethics will be implemented on the exams beginning January 2nd, 2018. We know there is a lot of fear and anxiety regarding these changes; the unknown can definitely be unnerving. Rest assured that 1. The overall changes are minor, and 2. TDC has you covered! We will be addressing the broader changes to the exams in greater detail later this month and next month, but want to take some time today to specifically review some of the Code of Ethics revisions and additions.
Personally, I am super excited about the revisions and additions made to the Code of Ethics. We are living in an increasingly technological world in which technology and social media inherently and inevitably impact us both personally and professionally as social workers. Social media is regularly utilized for the purposes of networking, marketing, professional development, and formal and informal communications. Many of us have both a public and personal presence on social media, and it can be difficult to know what is and is not appropriate when it comes to our roles as social workers and mental health professionals. These have been challenging topics to navigate through, especially without written standards to turn to. Until recently, our Code of Ethics provided little instruction on how to go about successfully and ethically navigating technology, which makes sense, as many of these issues were non-existent 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Previously, we didn’t have to think about how to ethically traverse the internet, social media, email, texting, chat rooms, and new technology, but now these are very real tasks we face. The NASW recognizes the unique challenges that come up in relation to confidentiality and informed consent, documentation and record keeping, boundaries, and more. The revised Code of Ethics has 19 new standards and revisions to address the ethical implications of technology use and we are excited to share them with you!
Last Wednesday we participated in a free webinar the NASW hosted covering these revisions. For the next four weeks, we will feature a weekly blog covering the revisions to the Code of Ethics. This week we will be doing a broad overview, including a practice question on privacy and confidentiality. Next week we will dive into the topic of Informed Consent. The following week we will look at Competence, Cultural Awareness and Social Diversity, and we will wrap up our final week with Conflicts of Interest. Each week will feature a FREE practice question relating to one of these topics. We encourage you to find some time to read through the revised Code of Ethics in its entirety. Whether you are preparing for your exam or are a seasoned clinician, these changes impact us all.
During the webinar, the NASW pointed out that whether directly addressing technology or not, the Code of Ethics standards are applicable to the communication, interactions, and relationships we have in person and online. That is to say, we shouldn’t necessarily be thinking about whether or not something is okay to do online. We should be asking ourselves, “would this be okay in person?” If it’s not okay in person, it’s not okay online either. See last week’s practice question and answer/rationale for more information.
Some of the minor revisions to the Code of Ethics include:
- Acknowledging that sexual relationships via technology with clients, students, or supervisees are unethical (2.06a)
- Acknowledging that sexual harassment can occur in written and electronic form as well (2.07)
- Specifying that we should avoid unwarranted negative criticism in verbal, written, and electronic communication (2.01b)
- Specifying that we should take adequate measures to discourage, prevent, expose, and correct the unethical conduct of colleagues, including unethical conduct using technology (2.10a)
- Specifying that as social workers functioning as educators or field instructors should not engage in dual or multiple relationships with students where there is risk of exploitation or harm to the student, including dual relationships that may arise while using social networking sites or other electronic media (3.02d)
And lastly for today is one of my favorites, and the topic for today’s practice question:
“1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality
(a) Social workers should respect clients’ right to privacy. Social workers should not solicit private information from or about clients except for compelling professional reasons” (revisions in italics).
A social worker has been meeting with a 24 year old woman for the past two months. The client presented with issues of anxiety, depression, and “ongoing relational difficulties.” The client is closed off and shares very little in session and the social worker is struggling to get the necessary information to complete the client’s biopsychosocial assessment. What should the social worker do FIRST?
A. Continue meeting with the client and gather information as the client is ready to share
B. Address the client’s resistance in the next session
C. Do a google search of the client to gather pertinent information necessary to complete the assessment and continue meeting with the client and gathering information as she is ready to share it
D. Terminate services with the client as it is unethical to continue treating a client you are not making progress with
So, what do you think? Leave your answer in the comments below and be sure to tune in on THURSDAY for the answer and a discussion of the rationale! Next week we will tackle the topic of Informed Consent with another FREE practice question.
National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers. Retrieved from: https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English