Carolyn I. Polowy, Sherri Morgan, W. Dwight Bailey, and Carol Gorenberg
Confidentiality of client communications is one of the ethical foundations of the social work profession and has become a legal obligation in most states. Many problems arise in the application of the principles of confidentiality and privilege to the professional services provided by social workers. This entry discusses the concepts of client confidentiality and privileged communications and outlines some of the applicable exceptions. While the general concept of confidentiality applies in many interactions between social workers and clients, the application of confidentiality and privilege laws are particularly key to the practice of clinical social workers in various practice settings.
Frederic G. Reamer
The possibility of practitioner impairment exists in every profession. Stress related to employment, illness or death of family members, marital or relationship problems, financial problems, midlife crises, personal physical or mental illness, legal problems, substance abuse, and professional education can lead to impairment. This article provides an overview of the nature and extent of impairment in social work, practitioners’ coping strategies, responses to impairment, and rehabilitation options and protocols. Particular attention is paid to the problem of sexual misconduct in social workers’ relationships with clients. The author reviews relevant ethical standards and presents a model assessment and action plan for social workers who encounter an impaired colleague.
Practitioners who were presumed to be competent may develop difficulties that interfere with job performance. Such professionals are considered impaired and may suffer from compassion fatigue, substance abuse, mental disorders, and other forms of distress associated with daily living. Practicing while impaired is unethical and can potentially be harmful to clients. Colleague Assistance Programs from professional associations or diversion systems and legal sanctions imposed by state regulatory boards are forms of intervention strategies that are employed. Self-care strategies and consciousness-raising among professionals are the best forms of prevention.
Tomi Gomory and Daniel Dunleavy
Social work is perhaps most distinctive for its clear and outspoken commitment toward improving the well-being of society’s vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, while still emphasizing the importance of respecting and defending personal rights and freedoms. Though there is a fundamental necessity for coercion, or its threat, for eliciting civil social behavior in a well-functioning society, it is professionally and ethically imperative that social workers make explicit our rationales for, justifications of, and the evidence used to support or reject coercive practices in our work. Social work’s engagement with coercion inevitably entails the ethical and social policy arguments for and against its use, as shown in a review of the empirical evidence regarding its impact on the professions’ clients, exemplified by three domains: (1) child welfare, (2) mental health, and (3) addictions. Recommendations for future improvements involve balancing the potential for harm against the benefits of coercive actions.