Techniques for protecting and enhancing client/client system self-determination is up next in our trek through the ASWB exam outline. Let's take a look.


Clients have the right and ability to make choices and decisions about their own lives, including the direction of their treatment. Client self-determination emphasizes respecting clients' autonomy, preferences, values, and goals, and involves collaborating with clients rather than imposing decisions upon them. 

The NASW Code of Ethics has Self-Determination right up top:

1.02 Self-Determination
Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients’ right to self-determination when, in the social workers’ professional judgment, clients’ actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.

Here are some techniques to achieve this:

  • Informed Consent:

    • Ensure that clients have sufficient information about the purpose, risks, benefits, and alternatives of interventions before they consent to participate.
    • Respect clients' right to refuse or withdraw consent at any time during the intervention process.
  • Client-Centered Approach:

    • Involve clients in decision-making processes regarding their goals, treatment plans, and interventions.
    • Respect clients' preferences, values, and cultural beliefs when developing intervention strategies.
  • Collaborative Goal Setting:

    • Collaborate with clients to establish goals that are meaningful, attainable, and consistent with their values and priorities.
    • Allow clients to prioritize their goals and determine the pace and direction of intervention.
  • Clear Communication:

    • Use plain language and avoid jargon to ensure clients understand information related to their rights, options, and choices.
    • Provide opportunities for clients to ask questions, seek clarification, and express concerns.
  • Empowerment Strategies:

    • Provide information, education, and skills training to empower clients to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions.
    • Encourage clients to assert their rights and preferences in interactions with service providers and systems.
  • Advocacy and Support:

    • Advocate for policies and practices that promote clients' self-determination and autonomy within social service systems.
    • Provide advocacy and support to help clients navigate barriers and access resources that support their goals.
  • Continuous Evaluation and Feedback:

    • Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of interventions in promoting clients' self-determination and autonomy.
    • Solicit feedback from clients about their experiences, preferences, and satisfaction with services, and use this feedback to inform practice.

By employing these techniques, social workers can uphold the principle of client self-determination and empower clients to actively participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives.

There are exceptions. Social workers are bound by legal and ethical standards that may require them to intervene or limit clients' self-determination in certain situations, such as cases involving imminent harm to self or others, child abuse or neglect, or situations where clients lack decision-making capacity due to mental illness or cognitive impairment.

On the Exam

Will this be on the test? Yes. Expect it. Client self-determination is a fundamental social work value and exactly the type of thing the ASWB wants to make sure social workers have a good handle on. Questions will likely be vignettes or something like this:

  • In which of the following situations might a social worker need to intervene to limit client self-determination?
  • What is the primary goal of promoting client self-determination in social work practice?
  • Which of the following strategies is consistent with promoting client self-determination?

Get questions about self-determination, the Code of Ethics, and lots more with Social Work Test Prep's full-length practice tests. Are you determined to pass?

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April 3, 2024
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