CJHS 395 Week 5 Ethical Standards Summaries

Ethical Standards Summaries

Situation # 1

In this situation, there are risks of creating a dual relationship. This risk is increased because of the small-town situation. In small and rural communities, there are less people and less service providers and this increases the risk that a client may be some who crosses into a line of intimacy from professionalism.  This is referred to as role confusion or blurring and it often occurs in rural setting where there is an increased chance of meeting clients in an informal setting. For example, a client may belong to the same church or attend the same clubs or groups. Dewane (2010), describes this issue as:

Rural communities often have a limited pool of healthcare and mental health providers. In rural or small towns, the possibility of simultaneous personal and professional involvement is high if not inevitable (Brownlee, 1996). The relative isolation of the area, distinct community and cultural norms, and limited resources and options all contribute to the high possibility of secondary relationships (Dewane, 2010).

To mitigate these risk one must determine if there is a dual relationship or the possibility of one. In this case there is a possibility of a dual relationship should the worker become friends with the neighbor.  There are questions that must be answered such as:

  • If there is a relationship is there a power differential?
  • Can the worker take advantage of the relationship?
  • Is objectivity impaired?
  • Is there are risk of exploitation?

In this situation, the worker does not have a relationship but one is a possibility in the future. With this is mind the worker must be willing to give up one relationship for the sake of the other. For instance, if the neighbor and the worker become friends, then the worker will not be able to assist the person in the WIC service. By removing one relationship, the worker reduces the risk of dual relationship. This is expressed in the social worker code of ethics:

Social workers who anticipate a conflict of interest among the individuals receiving services or who anticipate having to perform in potentially conflicting roles (for example, when a social worker is asked to testify in a child custody dispute or divorce proceedings involving clients) should clarify their role with the parties involved and take appropriate action to minimize any conflict of interest (NASW, 2017).

Situation # 2 

There are two significant areas of risk with regard to dual relationship, in this scenario.  If the worker friends the person on Facebook, then there is the danger of dual relationship and role conflict. This is a large area of confusion for many workers because the law and ethical requirements are often confusing. According to Herman and Kurplus, (2006):

Though sexual relationships with clients are clearly prohibited, nonsexual relationships are ethically permissible under certain circumstances. Like a dual relationship that is sexual, a nonprofessional dual relationship has the potential to blur the boundaries between a counselor and a client, create a conflict of interest, enhance the potential for exploitation and abuse of power, and/or cause the counselor and client to have different expectations of therapy. The 1995 code instructed counselors to avoid nonsexual dual relationships when it was possible to do so. The Ethical Code Revision Task Force felt that this instruction was being interpreted as a prohibition on all dual relationships, including relationships that could be beneficial to the client (see “Ethics Update” in the March 2006 issue of Counseling Today). Thus, the 2005 code revisions clarify that certain nonsexual interactions with clients can be beneficial, and therefore, those relationships are not banned (ACA, 2016).

This ambiguity is a serious issue depending upon who is judging a potential violation this could result in contradictory actions. For instance, under the ACA there is a five-year waiting period in which a counselor must not have personal interaction with a former patient.  However, under the Social Workers code this may be permissible (Dewane, 2010).  For this reason, it is best to avoid these situations because there are too many risks involved. The discrepancies between codes reveals a situation where the duty to the client must take precedence over other concerns. Frankly speaking, having a relationship personal or otherwise with a former client just seems like poor judgment. Ultimately, the worker has professional knowledge and understanding of the client’s history and personal issues and from a logical ground there is no equality in the relationship since the counselor is privy to knowledge that can be harmful to the client. Furthermore, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a counselor to not allow this personal knowledge of a former client to impact decision making and the relationship in general. For this reason, it is best to maintain a professional relationship with a client whether active or former in nature.

Situation # 3

This type of dual relationship risk falls into the category of unintentional or unplanned relationships. This type of relationship is common in social work, especially in small towns or rural communities. The unplanned relationship is described as:

Unintentional/unplanned relationships: These accidental crossings, particularly in small communities, are not inherently unethical but require skillful handling. Inadvertent situations—meeting a client in the grocery store or at the gym, attending a family gathering and realizing your cousin’s boyfriend is your client—are the ones in which we try to minimize risk to the client (Dewane, 2010).

Although not considered an unethical situation, these relationships are prone to risk. The recommended analysis of the relationship to determine risk is to ask questions concerning the nature of the relationship:

  • If there is a relationship is there a power differential?
  • Can the worker take advantage of the relationship?
  • Is objectivity impaired?
  • Is there are risk of exploitation?

In this case, the risk is of exploiting the system for personal use and this unplanned dual relationship places the worker in a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest place workers in a situation where their motives can be questioned. In this case it may be possible for the worker to use influence to alter the outcome of the situation in favor of the personal relationship. This would be considered an abuse of power.  Avoiding conflict of interest in order to achieve sound decision making is best. Personal involvement in this situation would be damaging to the agency and to one’s personal career. The best choice is for the worker to remove themselves from the situation in order to avoid potential risk of conflict of interest which could be construed as unethical. The code 1.06 of the Social Worker Code of Ethics states that:

(a) Social workers should be alert to and avoid conflicts of interest that interfere with the exercise of professional discretion and impartial judgment. Social workers should inform clients when a real or potential conflict of interest arises and take reasonable steps to resolve the issue in a manner that makes the clients’ interests primary and protects clients’ interests to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, protecting clients’ interests may require termination of the professional relationship with proper referral of the client (NASW, 2017).

While it may not be necessary, the worker may need to consider terminating the relationship during the period of investigation.


ACA. (2016). Aca code of ethics. Retrieved from ACA

Dewane, C. J. (2010, January/February). Respecting Boundaries — The Don’ts of Dual Relationships. Retrieved from Social Work Today

NASW. (2017). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from National Association of Social Workers

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