The profession of social work is a difficult and delicate one. Social workers have their own beliefs and values and these often differ from those of their clients. In order to have an organized system of doing social work, there is a code of ethics that governs how clients are treated to avoid chaos and to ensure that all parties involved get their rights. Some of the core values that guide the social workers are service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, integrity, importance of human relationships, and competence (NASW 1).
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In social work, we learn that we should always leave our personal views behind and embrace professional ones. For example, as a social worker, I am expected to respect client’s right to self-determination. Every client has a goal in life and as a social worker, one should strive to identify that goal and help the client to achieve it. There are times when this proves to be difficult especially with regard to religion. My personal values on religion and how it is followed may conflict with professional work values or ethical standards.
Following the code of ethics means that I do not agree with abortion, homosexuality or certain religious activities. I have to let go of my personal opinions and view the client objectively. It is disturbing when I come across a client who desperately need medical attention but cannot accept treatment due to religious beliefs. There are times when would like to help but find it difficult to cross that religious barrier. This conflict may prevent me from seeing clearly and trying to find alternative solutions.
My personal values are that religion cannot be followed blindly. Any religion that allows my clients to remain on hallucinogens, fast for days while suffering bad health or avoid hospital is wrong. It does not mean that my values are the ‘right’ values and they may come in conflict with the values that I should adhere to.
To me, any religion that preaches poverty as a way of life is wrong. I fail to understand why some religious groups would encourage poverty as penance or as a gateway to another realm. It is difficult to deal with such clients because they may not understand that their actions are costing other people their tax money in social work. I may not be in a position to make them understand that for their own wellbeing and that of their families, they have to drop this religion. This is a personal view and I cannot judge them based on their religion.
With time I have come to learn that we all have different personal values and what makes us good or bad social workers is what we do with them. The best social worker is one who is aware of their values. They put them aside and focus wholly on the client. The secret also lies in knowing when to apply these personal values whenever necessary. When uncertain, or conflicted, it is always advisable to consult senior colleagues who have a lot of experience and are always willing to help.
There are people all over the world who are vulnerable, oppressed, discriminated against and living in abject poverty. These are the people who need social workers the most. The aim of social work is to enhance their wellbeing and to empower them to stand on their own two feet. This is done by identifying the contributing factors to their predicament. They may be environmental, emotional, and may be rooted deeply in their past. The social worker identifies the root cause, eliminates it and puts the person back into society through the established programs and agencies.
Some people say the best things are free. When I am talking to a client, I think to myself, “What can I give that is free yet ethically acceptable?” One of my personal values is my belief in the strength of human relationships. The vulnerable probably have no one to protect them. The oppressed have nowhere to run. They need someone to listen to them. If clients have no one to talk to, they may sink deeper into despair. I actively listen to my clients so that I can understand where they are coming from and to decide on the next cause of action. When a vulnerable, oppressed and poor person lays out their situation to a sympathetic person, healing begins.
The path to recovery may also begin with a touch. We are taught that social workers should not engage in physical contact with clients when there is the possibility of psychological harm to the client. I know the importance of touch and whenever I touch a client, I am always governed by appropriate and culturally sensitive boundaries. This technique is employed as a healing system and claims to be useful for reducing pain and anxiety, promoting relaxation, and stimulating the body’s natural healing process (Bruno 1). Touch where children are concerned is especially important. It makes them feel loved and accepted by society. It brings them up to be good citizen which is important not just for them, but for the whole society.
As a social worker, I understand that strong human relationships are the driving forces for change. It’s my personal value that if I can get a client to partner with someone that is important to them, then I will be one step closer to our goal. I seek to strengthen relationships between family members, social organizations where the client may have an interest. I find out what causes division between my client and the people that are in his or her life. Some are judgment calls as the people in their lives may be dragging them down.
Human relationships are strengthened by understanding. To strengthen relationships with clients, I find that it helps to see their living conditions. It helps to visit the place where they call home, to see what they eat, where they sleep and how they interact with their neighbours. For those who sleep out on the street, it helps to feel their cold and misery. I believe that this brings a deeper understanding. It puts a human element in our talks with the clients as we strive to find a solution to such dire circumstances.
The mark of a good social worker is in his or her ability to enhance personal values that do not conflict with professional values. This gives them an edge over others who do not hold the same personal values. It makes it easier and more fulfilling to help clients and to make the society a much better place. Whenever I find a personal value that might facilitate a commitment to and implementation of one professional social work or ethical standard, I hold onto it and build it up to make me a better and more productive professional social worker.
Bruno, Leonard C. Therapeutic Touch, 1999. Web.
National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, 2008. Web.