Being Conscientious: Ethics of Impairment and Self Care

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Reply to 2015 Being Concscientious; Ethics of Impairment article

Dear Dr. Barsky,
I have termendous respect for your contirubutions to the social work field of practice, education, and ethics, but I take issue with one of the examples you use in this article. You note three examples and state " there are a number of circumstances in which workers might continue to work despite impairment." One of the three examples is this. "A worker who contracts a sexually transmitted disease might be too embarrassed to disclose this condition to anyone at the workplace." First, why is this disclosure necessary? And two, how does this put client welfare at risk, other than the obvious ethical violatoin of engaging in sexual activities with a client? Although this article was released in 2015, I think it is important to reply and correct this erroneous assumption. As you are well aware, we have confidentiality and privacy rules, standards, and prinicples to protect people from such embarrassing disclosures.

Louise Saxon more than 4 years ago

Sexually Transmitted Disease

Thanks for your note, Louise, allowing me to clarify the purpose of the STD example. You are correct that it is not "necessary" for a social worker with a sexually transmitted disease to disclose this information to anyone at work. In this situation, the risk to clients is not that the worker could pass along the STD to a client, but that the worker may be so emotionally upset that the worker cannot function effectively at work... and the worker may not feel comfortable reaching out to a supervisor or coworker for support because of the stigma attached to STDs. If a worker had the flu or had trouble sleeping, the worker could tell a supervisor about the situation and the supervisor could allow the worker to take the day off. If a worker receives a positive result on a test for HIV or syphilis, the worker may be too embarrassed to tell anyone at work. The worker may suffer in silence. Further, the worker may feel compelled to lie if he or she needs to take time off from work for medical treatment. Although workers are not obliged to tell their supervisors or agencies the details of their medical conditions or personal concerns, dealing with conditions that may be impairing practice can be more difficult when workers feel they need to keep their conditions secret.

Allan Barsky more than 4 years ago

Faculties Need to Make this Mandatory

Thank you for your post! After 25 yrs of experienced in SW, & the work I am currently involved in, I can see "conscientious self care" becoming mandatory practice in the future. However, not without the support of our employers & professional regulatory bodies making some changes in policies. Social workers with high crisis case loads &/or working for employers with a 'do more with less' mentality, have been overloaded with minimal supervision, mentors & support, for centuries. Unfortunately, it is not just the individual who needs to place higher emphasis on being conscientious about the ethics of our self care & working healthy. From my perspective, we need our professional regulatory bodies & our faculties We need to know that someone has our backs. This is not a tall order, we are a creative & resourceful profession. I am speaking as a Social Worker in Canada. I attended & spoke at the last NASW conference in Washington DC. I had the opportunity to meet with many SW's from all around. I also speak with SW's world wide on a regular basis. Our stories are similar. You make an excellent point about "conscientious self care" being an obligation. How beneficial this would be if we incorporated this in to our code of ethics. I agree it is time for this change, not only to protect our colleagues & the clients we work with, but mainly to protect ourselves. My area of speciality in my private practice is addressing Workplace Bullying (WPB). This is experienced by SW's & all other professions. I advocate for our right to safety & social justice in the workplace. I advocate for the advocate. This subject is an area that is lacking in discussions & research for our own profession. Every experience of WPB brings up personal issues for all people involved. Regardless of the role played in these situations, every person will have as you say, some area in their life that could be influencing how they are reacting in the workplace. In my practice I hear hundreds of stories from SW's yearly. We are held at a higher standard due to our training & responsibilities, yet our current policies do not protect us from the ongoing stress of high complex case loads, long hours, high staff turnover, placing us at risk of i.e. vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout & workplace bullying. It is essential that we place priority on our self care, health & wellness. Fact is, we also need the support by our employers & professional regulatory bodies. When will the costs of the injustices social workers experience in the workplace be a priority to address?

The very positive message that I take from your article is that with self care and personal development, SW's will regain their confidence, find their own voice in the workplace, & set solid & healthy boundaries for themselves. This powerful change will influence policy changes. Whatever role we play, it does begin with us. Thank you again! Linda Crockett

Linda Crockett more than 8 years ago

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