code of ethics spotlight sexual relationships Here's a section of the NASW Code of Ethics that doesn't need a lot of rereading and figuring. Can ethical social workers have sexual relationships with clients or former clients? No. It takes the code a while to get this said, in Section 1.09, Sexual Relationships. Here's a quick summary, point by point:

(a) No SW sexual activity with current clients.

(b) No SW sexual activity with people close to client. 

(c) No SW sexual activity with former clients. Can harm the client.

(d) No SW services for former sexual partners.

Simple enough. Tempted to have sex with a client, a former client, a client's friend, or to be therapist or social worker to a former sexual partner? Don't. It's unethical.

Here's Frederic Reamer (as usual) detailing the whys and whats of this section of the code in Social Work Today: Facing Up to Social Worker Sexual Misconduct.

All of this really could be folded into the dual relationship section of the code, but given that this is an area that social workers and other therapy types lose their licenses over with some regularity, it seems to have warranted its very own detailing. For more on dual relationships, here's another SWT article, Respecting Boundaries.

A licensing exam question about all of the above might look something like this:

A social worker in private practice finds herself growing sexually attracted to a male client. What should she do FIRST?

A. Terminate with the client and wait two years before beginning a sexual relationship.

B. Terminate with the client and refer him to another therapist.

C. Seek supervision regarding countertransference.

D. Discuss the attraction with the client before deciding whether or not to terminate.

Best answer? A is easiest to eliminate--it directly contradicts the code. B & D are tempting. Maybe this client does need to be referred out. Would you refer the client without telling him why? If no, than D. If yes, than B. Happily, there's another, better answer here: C, seek supervision first. Sexual attraction to a client is also known as erotic countertransference. Before considering termination, the social worker should explore the issue in supervision. How is the intimacy of therapy being confused with other types of intimacy? How to remedy? 

Make sense? Great. Want more questions? Sign up with SWTP for complete, realistic social work licensing exam practice tests.

March 10, 2014
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