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Ethical Dilemma and Decision-Making Steps

Ethical principles exist in every profession to dictate acceptable practice and promote professionalism. Social workers are often presented with ethical dilemmas in their duties that demand competence in the ethical decision-making processes. While it may be tempting to overstep one’s mandate in ethical dilemmas, it is prudent to maintain ethical boundaries with clients to earn their trust and promote cordial relationships.

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Anticipated Ethical Dilemma

I will be working in a rehab treatment center as a social worker with recovering drug addicts. Building from my experience, I expect to face dilemmas around the principle of self-determination and the importance of human relationships. For instance, I anticipate a situation whereby a recovering addict will maintain their social circle some still abusing drugs. As a paraprofessional, I understand that one way of solving the problem of addiction is to advise the patient to cut links with their former dealers. However, the ethical principle of self-determination gives my client the right to mingle and associate freely.

Relevant Ethical Boundaries to Maintain and Importance

The ethical principles of self-determination and the importance of human relationships give clients the autonomy to make independent decisions and socialize with others unbounded. As a counselor, one of my valued recovery plans is for an addict to stay away from their friends who are still using drugs to avoid peer inspired relapse (Lookatch et al., 2019).. However, as a professional worker, I understand the ethical weight carried by the principle of self-determination. While I could advise the client against socially interacting with their friends, it would be feasibly impossible if the same clients were to go ahead do the opposite. This is because their freedom to take control of their lives and regardless of their conditions marks an ethical boundary that I am bound to respect as per the social worker code of conduct (Naswma, n.d). Therefore, the ethical boundary exists to guide the relationship between my practice as a counselor and my client’s right to self-determination.

. Another ethical boundary emanates from the principle of human relationships. Human relationships are vital to addicts as they influence support to enhance the recovery process. However, in this scenario, the relationships are likely to be destructive rather than constructive. Allowing the patient to interact with former friends who still use drugs could negate the gains made in the recovery process. These friends will probably motivate the client to get to drug life again through intentional and unintentional opportunities. As a counselor, I understand these dangers, but my influence is limited. I am obligated to advise the client on which friends to keep and which ones to cut off his network. However, I cannot decide outrightly for my client which circles to keep. Thus, the importance of human relationships sets an ethical boundary that is solidified by the right to self-determination.

Maintaining ethical boundaries is essential in professional practice as it helps neutralize conflicts. Firstly, setting and maintaining ethical limitations promotes clarity of responsibilities. It helps define the roles of each participating member in an engagement. The boundaries will help me understand where my professional influence should end as a counselor. In addition, ethical boundaries are instrumental defining responsibilities for each party. Ethical boundaries are also crucial in enhancing relationships between social workers and their clients. An addict who feels that they are being accorded their space is likely to corporate because they trust. They might even be responsive to counsel, which would boost their overall success in recovery because of trust. Therefore, there is prudence in maintaining ethical boundaries when dealing with drug addicts.

The Ethical Decision-Making Process

There are six primary steps in the decision-making process to be followed in addressing the created ethical dilemma. The first would be to determine or justify the presence of an ethical dilemma by assessing values against professional responsibilities. The second step is identifying and profiling the involved ethical principles. In the created scenario, the principles of self-determination and the importance of human relationships are affected. The third step is to rank the identified principles in their order of relevance. In the scenario, self-determination is prominent as it affects the client’s choice of friends and relationships. The fourth step is to develop an action plan that is professionally guarded without trumping upon clients’ rights. The action plan would inform the client of the risks of associating with his former friends in the created scenario. The fifth step is implementing the action plan through skillful negotiation and sensitive communication (Naswma, n.d). Finally, it would be prudent to reflect on the outcome of the ethical decision-making process and thus identify gaps for further professional training and improvement.

Supervisor Involvement

There are instances where the intervention of a higher authority is necessary. In this scenario, if my client responds with hostility to my advice, it would be prudent to seek help from my supervisors. A neutral voice would help the client see the rationale behind my advice. Besides, my supervisor has been in the field for a long and has more experience dealing with ethical dilemmas. Enjoining an expert will help diffuse any tension as the client will have more confidence in someone above me. Thus, while I am confident about my experience in handling the issue, it might be necessary to involve a third party.

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In summary, paraprofessionals need to be ethically sensitive when working with their clients. Ethical principles guide professional practice by setting boundaries to be observed. In the scenario, a social worker dealing with a drug addict should respect the client’s principles of self-determination and freedom to socialize as part of relationship building. However, the paraprofessional should provide edifying counseling to aid the client in making informed decisions.


Lookatch, S. J., Wimberly, A. S., & McKay, J. R. (2019). Effects of social support and 12-step involvement on recovery among people in continuing care for cocaine dependence. Substance use & misuse, 54(13), 2144-2155.

Newman. (n.d.). Essential Steps for Ethical Problem-Solving. Web.

Newman. (n.d.). Ethical Challenges for Social Workers in Substance Abuse: Ethical Lapse and Relapse. Web.

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