Ethical principles are fundamental to clinical social work. Ethics
are precepts that guide the moral conduct of professionals; they
are not the same as practice standards, which prescribe competent
practice at various levels of development. Clinical social workers
who are board certified by the American Board of Examiners in
Clinical Social Work (ABE) are required to adhere to its ethics
code. They must also observe ethics codes and precepts of relevant
state statutes and regulations of the social work membership
organizations, employing agencies, or uniformed services to which
they may belong.
ABE’s Ethics Code consists of general principles
rather than specific rules and regulations. Specific rules and
regulations are contained in various sections of some state license
statutes, state Societies for Clinical Social Work, and the National
Association of Social Workers. The reader is referred to these
codes for additional guidance in matters of ethical conduct,
as well as to the principles below.
I. Responsibility to Clients
1. Clinical social workers observe the primacy of client need balanced
with the right to self-determination. They take all reasonable
steps to prevent the client from causing harm to self and others,
and use their diagnostic and treatment skills to improve the
mental health and social functioning of clients.
2. Early in professional relationships clinical social workers
explain their professional identity and qualifications, setting
fair fees (no fee-splitting) and defining mutual obligations, including
the need to terminate services when not required/desired by the
client. They make provisions to avoid abandonment when services
must be interrupted.
3. Except as mandated by law, legal precedent or court order, client-clinician
communication is privileged and confidential, and the release of
such information at any time must occur only with written informed
consent of the client, legal guardian, or research subject.
4. Clinical social workers monitor the quality of their services,
continuously evaluate their effectiveness, and strive to increase
skills, knowledge and mastery. They refrain from conduct in which
personal issues or biases may prove harmful or impede competence.
5. Clinical social workers do not use clients for self-interest,
do not socialize with clients in a manner detrimental to treatment,
and do not exploit clients or engage in sexual harassment or sexual
relationships with supervisees, students, employees, research subjects,
or current and former clients. The clinician carries the burden
of determining that a relationship is appropriate, not detrimental,
and does not violate boundaries of roles.
II. Responsibility to Profession
1. Clinical social workers practice within the legal constraints
of their state license(s) and adhere to the ethics codes of the
social-work organizations to which they belong.
2. Clinical social workers act in a manner that promotes and preserves
the professional social work values and the practice standards
of clinical social work.
3. Clinical social workers make clear their role when speaking
or acting as a private individual rather than as a professional
or as a representative of a professional organization.
4. When more than one clinician is involved in the care of a client,
clinical social workers seek to coordinate treatment. They are
obligated to address any collaborative issues that are not in the
best interest of the client.
III. Responsibility to Society
1. Clinical social workers do not discriminate against anyone,
including discrimination due to age, race, religion, ethnicity,
nationality, gender, or sexual orientation.
2. Clinical social workers, acting as practitioners, instructors,
supervisors, or employers, take care to avoid incompetence, dishonesty,
fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or dishonorable business practices.
3. If an employing entity’s practices/policies conflict with professional
ethics or practice standards, the clinician shall seek to bring
about change in the employing entity.
4. Clinical social workers conduct research in a manner consistent
with the values/standards of clinical social work practice, and
report findings accurately.
In order to uphold the integrity of its certifications,
the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE) may
reprimand or censure a certificant or suspend or revoke his/her
certification, for any of the following reasons:
• Breach of this ethics code,
• Conviction of a felony or crime of moral turpitude,
• Misdemeanor based on professional shortcomings,
• Incompetence (professional or mental) or narcotics addiction
or habitual intoxication,
• Expulsion from other social work organizations, or revocation
of state licensure or certification.
ABE may make public any disciplinary action taken
against the practitioner.