If you’re looking for a counselor or therapist, it may interest you to know that the strongest, most complete ethical statement for any profession was written by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Any member of NASW, such as myself, is obligated to follow this code and the actions of any social worker is compared to this code to determine whether or not it is ethical.


Why does this matter? The Code of Ethics is in place to help guarantee that someone seeking help is not further harmed by a social worker. The very nature of the counseling relationship, where one person knows significantly more about the other person, creates an opportunity for some harmful behaviors, intentional or not. For the complete code of ethics, follow this link: http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight the social worker’s ethical responsibility to clients, particularly confidentiality. Yesterday’s post referred to the idea of self-determination, stating that the client’s view of the problem and the solution is more important than the counselor’s. Confidentiality and dual relationships are the other two key responsibilities that I find challenging on a regular basis. Tomorrow’s post will explore dual relationships, which is somewhat entwined with confidentiality.

Confidentiality means what a client shares with me is held in confidence. It means I don’t share what we talk about outside of our session, unless it’s necessary. The Code of Ethics says its only necessary if the client discloses a physical threat to harm themselves or someone else, if a child is in danger, or if I need to consult with a fellow social worker in order to meet my client’s needs. In all of these cases, I would respect the client’s right to self-determination by telling them I was required to disclose. And I warn my clients at the beginning of our relationship that I am legally required to disclose in cases of suicide, threats of violence or child abuse.

Outside of the legally mandated disclosures or seeking help from another social worker or mental health professional, your secrets are safe with me. A client once asked if I had to report a past crime to the police as part of the legally mandated disclosures. I answered, probably not since it was a past action. Realistically, my goal is to protect our conversations to the utmost of my power. Your secrets safe with me. My office is a safe place to talk about anything,  without fear of judgment or others finding out.