What is an ethical dilemma?
An ethical dilemma is a situation requiring action on part of the social worker wherein there is no clean success – that is, two or more ethical principles are in conflict with one another. In an ethical dilemma, any of the possible actions or responses the social worker can make inevitably requires the breaching or compromise of a least one ethical principle. Ethical principles are standards of a group, organization, or profession that direct courses of action on behalf of the profession’s agents – in this case, social workers.
An ethical dilemma is a situation requiring action on part of the social worker wherein two or more ethical principles are in conflict with one another.
The most important thing for social workers to remember when dealing with ethical dilemmas is to use the supports they have in place to keep themselves from having to act alone! Social workers can seek guidance and support in navigating ethical dilemmas by:
- Consulting the NASW Code of Ethics to which all social workers are expected to adhere and frame the core tenets and guidelines of our profession. All social work students should familiarize themselves with this document, and practitioners should revisit it periodically.
- Seeking supervision
- Reviewing agency policies
- Reviewing state and federal laws
- Contacting the NASW