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Social Work Values and Ethics

Different professions have ethical guidelines that facilitate effective decision-making, but there are times when the professionals face ethical dilemmas. During these situations, it is imperative to embrace the decision that causes the least amount of harm on clients and the professionals. Ethical dilemmas concerning confidentiality must be approached in the light of the models assumed by respective organizations to prevent legal liabilities on the part of the professionals and their employers.

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Ethical Issue

Human and social service professionals face numerous ethical dilemmas when working in a family setting, especially if there are conflicts involved in the family. One of the prevailing ethical issues is the confidentiality. It is within the guidelines of the profession to ensure that the client’s confidential information is kept secret. Self-determination and confidentiality go hand-in-hand in the profession because the clients might choose to make a decision that must be kept private from the rest of the family members.

For instance, when dealing with a repeat drug addict, most novice and experienced human and social service professionals face ethical dilemmas when the clients choose a course of action that may do more harm than good to the family (Corey, Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2014). It is quite common for professionals in the field to face ethical dilemmas associated with confidentiality in such situations because one of the primary guidelines is to ensure that the wellness of the entire family prevails.

A good example of an event that might result in the development of an ethical dilemma on the basis of confidentiality is when the client starts having suicidal thoughts. It is common for drug addicts and alcoholics in the family setting to comprehend on suicide as the solution to their problems, especially if the rest of the family has disowned them. When a client starts portraying signs of being chronically depressed and contemplating suicide, the professional human and social service officer might be forced to tell the family members or a higher authority about the choices made by the client (Corey et al., 2014).

However, most professionals lack the skills and knowledge of dealing with such a situation because breaking confidentiality might have dire legal implications on the professional, and even jeopardize their career. When a client starts talking about suicide as the only solution to their challenges and becoming adamant on the course of action, most professionals do not know whether to report the matter to the family members or any other higher authority. Some of the options would be the police, health care professionals, or other human and social service professionals who might have faced similar situations. It is, therefore, important to address this issue through an ethical model that guides the decision-making process of the professionals (Corey et al., 2014).

Solving the Issue

According to the ethical guidelines of the National Organization for Human Service (NOHS), all professionals must conduct themselves in a manner that portrays the ability to operate above the standardized threshold of ethics. This implies that they should be willing to uphold such ethical requirements as confidentiality, and they should also know how to deal with the associated ethical dilemmas. With the current issue of clients contemplating suicide as the only solution to their problems, the NOHS dictates the application of several ethical steps to break confidentiality in a manner that eliminates allegations of malpractice and professional negligence. Under the NOHS, confidentiality is considered to be one of the foundational ethical requirements for professionals (Netting, Kettner, McMurtry, Thomas, 2016).

This implies that a human and social service professional faced with a client who chooses suicide as the only solution is obliged to uphold the confidentiality of the self-determined course of action. However, the primary role of the professional is to ensure that the safety and wellness of the client are upheld by every course of action. When working in a family setting, the holistic approach to service delivery dictates that social service officers must propose decisions that enhance the wellness of the entire family; hence, such a case would be exempted from confidentiality (Reamer, 2013).

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According to the ethical model of the NOHS, the first step should be trying to convince the client to consider other courses of action to solve the respective issues (Netting et al., 2016). If this approach fails, the next step should be trying to lure the client into giving consent to invite a third party in the decision-making process to facilitate sharing of the confidential information with someone who might help. For instance, involving a close family member or a professional counselor dealing with suicidal patients would probably help the client to eliminate the suicidal thought. However, if the client refuses to give consent to sharing their private information with third parties, the human and social service professional should exercise their mandate to ensure the patient’s safety is not compromised by breaking the oath of confidentiality.

The harm that may occur to the client when the professional breaks confidentiality might result in legal cases against the professional. The NOHS ethical model exempt professionals from the liabilities associated with breaking confidentiality if the client is suicidal, or if the harm that might occur to the patient if confidentiality is upheld supersedes the harm caused by breaking confidentiality (Netting et al., 2016). The ultimate harm that may occur to the client is death; hence, if the professionals face a stubborn client with suicidal thoughts, they are obliged to break confidentiality and consult with other professionals to protect the client. However, it is important to exhaust all other options before breaking confidentiality with the client.


The most important individuals for consultation in a situation where the client becomes suicidal are the family members, superiors in the organization of employment, and the inter-professional teams associated with guidance and counseling. Once the professional breaks confidentiality, the relationship with the client might deteriorate and perhaps make the client commit suicide immediately (Corey et al., 2014).

The first step would be inviting family members to monitor the client’s behavior and daily activities to deny them the chance to take the irrational course of action. The second step would be inviting a professional counselor who has specialized in helping suicidal clients to provide the relevant guidelines. It is imperative to handle the entire process with absolute care to ensure that the intervention does not result in the client committing suicide.


One of the most common ethical dilemmas for human and social service professionals is breaking confidentiality when the patients become suicidal. The NOHS model of ethics stipulates that suicidal cases warrant the exemption of confidentiality from the professionals, but the most stressing part for the professionals is determining the appropriate individuals to consult. The recommended approach entails notifying the family members to keep the client under close behavioral monitoring. The proposed approach also recommends that the client should receive counseling from a specialist in cases associated with suicidal clients.


Corey, G., Corey, M. S., Corey, C., & Callanan, P. (2014). Issues and ethics in the helping professions with 2014 ACA codes (9th ed.). Scarborough, ON: Nelson Education.

Netting, F. E., Kettner, P. M., McMurtry, S. L., & Thomas, M. L. (2016). Social work macro practice (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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Reamer, F. G. (2013). Social work values and ethics (4th ed.). New York City, NY: Columbia University Press.

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