Paper Example on Ethical Dilemma Experienced in Social Work Setting

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Carnegie Mellon University
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Social workers have responsibilities to serve their clients in the best interest. There are codes of ethics that guide professionals on the way they should act. However, these social workers are faced with the ethical dilemma as they serve client. An ethical dilemma is a conflict that involves difference in ethical principles (Assembly, 2008).

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Ethical dilemma that most social workers experience is the issue of confidentiality. Clients right to confidentiality should always be respected by social workers, and they should not relay the message without the knowledge of the client. They should respect clients right make decision, but in the cases of suicide or threat of harming other people, a social worker is obliged to give out the information and violate the right of client to confidentiality for the purpose of providing security to the public. In a social work setting the issue with privacy is one the main factor that results to the ethical dilemma. For example, a client comes with information that needs consultation and wants the social worker to be confidential. The information is complex and needs consultation from another professional, the social worker is torn whether to want for consent from the client or go ahead and consult the other social worker for more information. It is important to consult on the best solution to the clients problem, but it is against the social worker's code of ethics to disclose the clients information without their written consent (Reamer, 2013).

Ethical Principles that Constitute a Dilemma

Respect for autonomy

Social work is concern with the respect and dignity of all people whereby a social worker is required to defend the psychological, spiritual, emotional, or physical well-being of the clients that they attend to. A social worker can do this by respecting the client right to make their decisions irrespective of their values and choices ensuring that they promote the client ability of the clients to make the right thing. They also facilitate the right of clients to participate by using their services in a way they empower them in all aspects of decisions and actions affecting their lives. Additionally, social workers should understand that the clients visit them so that they can have a solution to their problem. Therefore, social workers should empower them by identifying and developing their strengths (American College Personnel Association, 2012).

Social justice

Social workers have the responsibility of promoting social justice by challenging negative discrimination. No social worker has the right to discriminate their clients by age, race, marital status, culture, gender or political opinion instead they should promote social justice by treating every client as equal.


Confidentiality is social work relates to keeping the information of the client to yourself not disclosing the information to your colleagues, the clients family and friends or any other person without the consent of the client. Social workers are expected to keep the information shared to them by the client as private until they get the consent of the client (McAuliffe & Chenoweth, 2008).

Do no harm

This principle of doing no harm explains that social workers should aim at helping the clients and that their activities and interactions may not at any time result to any harm. Activities that the social worker engages in should not inflict any risk of harm to the clients.

The principle of beneficence

The principle states that all activities of the professionals should aim at promoting the well-being of the clients.

Issues to Consider in an Ethical Dilemma

When making a decision on a subject regarded as an ethical dilemma, some factors need to be considered. Firstly, law and agency policies are involved since social workers are at most times legally obligated to take a particular course of action. In the social workers code of ethics, it is recognized that the social workers have legal duty to share confidential information to an extent where the information provided aims at causing harm to other people or in cases of child abuse. Secondly, cultural beliefs are considered in an ethical dilemma. It is worth to noting that some issues require the social worker to understand the cultural beliefs of a client to solve the dilemma (Reamer, 2013).

Decision-Making Process

An ethical dilemma is a conflicting issue in a professional that need to make a decision in order to solve the problem. The decision-making process is the framework that most professionals used to solve the ethical dilemma that they face in their day to day activities. It is an exclusive process that can be utilized by almost all the professionals who are dealing with a situation that needs a solution without harming anybody. The following is the decision-making process that is developed to solve an ethical dilemma.

Defining the ethical dilemma

The first step in making decisions is to identify the ethical dilemma. Ethical dilemma occurs when a social worker is in a situation they are required to make a decision between two but similar option, and there is no clear choice to chose the option that yields more benefits than harm. Identifying the ethical dilemma help one to know the issue they are dealing with (Freud & Krug, 2002).

Mapping the situation

After identifying the moral dilemma, it is important to conduct an assessment to determine the relationship of the dilemma. The relationship determines how the two involved are related it could be interpersonal, cultural or community system. In this stage, it is legitimate to know who is included in the dilemma and whether it is important to share with others.

Gathering information

Gathering of information gathering is an important step in the process of decision-making to have knowledge of whether the information is accurate to the code of conduct, policies, practice standards, and protocols. The information required is essential in bringing into awareness whether there are any conflicts between personal value and whether the conflicts will present problems to the decision maker. Information gathering also includes looking the information on how the dilemma can be solved from the research literature, consultation, or critical reflection. After gathering the information, the dilemma is presented in its context which could be; legal, cultural, structural, or political (McAuliffe & Chenoweth, 2008).

Alternative approaches and action

Gathered information should be packed and sorted and the action to solve the problem taken. The ethical principles of doing no harm should always be followed. The decision is made regarding the information present at that time, and it is worth considering the contributions of ethical theories that assist in the understanding decision based on the rules, and policies. The methods discussed include; deontology, utilitarian, the ethic of care and virtue ethics.

Decision analysis and evaluation

In this step, the decision has been made, and the correct action is taking. Therefore, it aims at assessing whether the measures taken was the most appropriate. It involves a critical reflection on the practice making consideration of the decision of self and others.

The decision making above was obtained from the readings provided. The source was significant in that it made it easy to understand the how ethical dilemma concerning confidentiality can be solved. It contributed to the process by providing the information that for one to deal with an ethical dilemma, it is important first to identify the dilemma itself and put it in its meaningful context. The context can be cultural, political, clinical or structural. It has an impact on improving the understanding that the decision to be made should cause no harm to the social worker, the client, or the public. Additionally, there is need to have in mind the ethical theories that will guide a social worker in making a decision on the dilemma (McAuliffe & Chenoweth, 2008).

Just practice is the aspect of treating all clients equally without discrimination. Justice is applicable in the ethical dilemma that involves confidentiality in a way that the social worker should not discriminate some client whereby they keep some of the clients information as confidential and disclosing the information of other clients. Health model frameworks are methods used to promote health among the people. It is applicable in the dilemma of confidentiality whereby the social worker should come with a decision that ensures the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of the client. For example where a client has HIV/AIDS and claims to have more than one sexual partner and tells you not to disclose the information. As a social worker, you should consider promoting the health of the people. Therefore should disclose the information the wife or husband of the client and encourage them to use protection during intercourse and if possible the worker should find the sexual partners and inform them about the status of the client so that they are not infected with the virus and also reduce the severity of the virus on the client (Freud & Krug, 2002).

The ethical dilemma and the decision-making process in solving the dilemma have been of great importance to my professional development since I have gained knowledge that I did not have earlier. Firstly, I have come to the understanding that ethical dilemma come in various contexts and one should be able to differentiate the settings from having an idea of how to go about it. Secondly, I understood better on the issue of the decision-making process and the steps that are involved in the decision-making process and how each step contributes to the final decision made (Assembly, 2008). Also, I learned that there are some of the ethical theories that one should consider. Firstly, deontology which judges the actions based on the rules. Secondly, utilitarian which states that the final decision should yield more benefits than harm. Additionally, virtue ethics whereby is emphasizes on individual character as the key element of ethical thinking. Also, care ethics which states that care should be the central aspect in solving an ethical dilemma (Freud & Krug, 2002).


American College Personnel Association. (2012). Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards. Journal of College Student Development, 34(2), 89-92.

Assembly, N. D. (2008). Code of ethics of the national association of social workers.Freud, S., & Krug, S. (2002). Beyond the code of ethics, part I: Complexities of ethical decision making in social work practice. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 83(5), 474-482.

McAuliffe, D., & Chenoweth, L. (2008). Leave no stone unturned: The inclusive model of ethical decision making. Ethics and social welfare, 2(1), 38-49.

Reamer, F. G. (2013). Ethical dilemmas in social work practice. Social Work, 28(1), 31-35.

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