competence social work ethicsNext in our question-a-section journey through the NASW Code of Ethics, 1.04, Competence. The three parts of this section say basically this: a) Don't pretend to be what you're not, b) Don't use interventions you don't know much about, and c) If you're not sure about what you're doing, read up! Each of those lends itself to social work licensing exam questions. Here's one that attempts to cover all three at once:

A social worker has a client who wants to try CBT. The social worker knows a little about CBT from a course she took in grad school, several years ago. What is the BEST way for the social worker to proceed?

A. Refer the client to an experienced CBT practitioner

B. Inform the client that she is not an expert in CBT

C. Agree to try CBT after getting additional training

D. Start doing CBT with the client and get additional training

You might wonder why the social worker doesn't know more about CBT. Doesn't matter. She doesn't. (Maybe she just moved into a clinical role after doing something else for a while.) Try not to get distracted by judgments you might have about characters in exam vignettes. Intuitions can be helpful; judgments probably aren't going to be.

So, the social worker doesn't know CBT and the client wants "to try" CBT treatment. According to the code, the social worker should be clear about her limitations, should refrain from practicing using methods she knows little about, and should endeavor to get additional training whenever needed. That leaves one best answer to choose from. Yep, that one. C. Why not the others? Referring the client out might be better if this were an initial assessment, but it's not. Just informing the client that she is not an expert leaves out the next step (refer or learn)--it's the best FIRST step, yes, but that's not what the question is asking. Starting CBT without more training, unethical!

Do you need to learn more about CBT? (It's a good idea to have a good sense of how CBT operates both for the exam and for social work practice.) Some places to start:

Want more practice questions about competence, CBT, and all the rest? Sign up at SWTP!

November 6, 2015
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