Balancing Personal Values and Social Work Organization Ethics When They Don’t Seem to Match Up


Few things are more difficult in one’s profession than personal beliefs and organizational ethics not matching up. No matter how you feel about issues personally, you will need to curb your feelings in order to be an effective therapist within the field of social work. If you truly hope to help people, as is the reason given by most for entering the field, you cannot cherry pick to whom you choose to offer aid. Here are things you can do when your personal values are in conflict with your professional ethics:

1.Look in the Mirror

[ M ] Duane Michals - MirrorWhy do you feel the way you do? Were you raised to believe certain things about specific topics? Perhaps your feelings and attitude are based in religion. Sometimes, are personal values are based on nothing more than on things that we’ve been told. Ask yourself if the way you feel about certain issues could change if you had more information.

2.Study the Code

Every social worker is expected to follow the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics. Have you thoroughly examined the code? If not, it’s time that you do. Having a deeper understanding of the historical context of the NASW Code of Ethics may help you gain an appreciation for ideals that vary from your own. There are core elements that are included in the code that have a basis in history and are put in place for a very real purpose.


National Organization for Marriage rally against same-sex marriage

As you examine the code, make note of any discrepancies between your personal values and the expectations of your profession. Writing down your thoughts and feelings about these discrepancies in a running journal can help you determine why those discrepancies exist. Perhaps you have strong feelings against homosexuality but know no homosexual people. Expanding your social circle to include people of a different sexual orientation may help you develop a respect for that group of people. Look for ways that you can resolve conflicts between your values and the values of your profession.

4.Make a Decision

As a social worker, you have no choice whom to offer assistance to. You cannot turn someone away simply because you don’t agree with their lifestyle. If this is going to become a great source of conflict for you in your personal, family or spiritual life, you need to make some hard decisions. Will you remain in the profession? Will you leave the profession and look for another? There is no rule that says you must change the moral code that you live by. There is a rule, however, that your moral code cannot prevent you from assisting those in need.


Even therapists need therapy. If you find that you choose to remain in the profession but struggle with the ethics of your organization, therapy can help you discover tools for coping and for change. Talking to someone else may give you better insight into your core values and, ultimately, help you understand why you feel the way you do. Once you gain an understanding, you may be better able to adjust your viewpoints and gain comfort with your organization’s ethical code.

It’s not unusual for social workers and others in the therapy field to find that their values aren’t in line with organizational ethics. It’s how you respond to those discrepancies that matters. Follow the tips above to help determine if you can adjust your beliefs and whether you can effectively help the people in your care.

Robert Neff is a blogger for several schools that offers a MSW online.


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