Here's a section of
the NASW Code of Ethics that doesn't need a lot of rereading and
figuring. Can ethical social workers have sexual relationships with
clients or former clients? No. It takes the code a while to get
this said, in Section
1.09, Sexual Relationships. Here's a quick summary, point by
(a) No SW sexual activity with current clients.
(b) No SW sexual activity with people close to
(c) No SW sexual activity with former clients. Can harm the
(d) No SW services for former sexual partners.
Simple enough. Tempted to have sex with a client, a former
client, a client's friend, or to be therapist or social worker to a
former sexual partner? Don't. It's unethical.
Here's Frederic Reamer (as usual) detailing the whys and whats
of this section of the code in Social Work Today: Facing
Up to Social Worker Sexual Misconduct.
All of this really could be folded into the dual relationship
section of the code, but given that this is an area that social
workers and other therapy types lose their licenses over with some
regularity, it seems to have warranted its very own detailing. For
more on dual relationships, here's another SWT article, Respecting
A licensing exam question about all of the above might look
something like this:
A social worker in private practice finds herself growing
sexually attracted to a male client. What should she do FIRST?
A. Terminate with the client and wait two years before beginning
a sexual relationship.
B. Terminate with the client and refer him to another
C. Seek supervision regarding countertransference.
D. Discuss the attraction with the client before deciding
whether or not to terminate.
Best answer? A is easiest to eliminate--it directly contradicts
the code. B & D are tempting. Maybe this client does need to be
referred out. Would you refer the client without tell him why? If
no, than D. If yes, than B. Happily, there's another, better answer
here: C, seek supervision first. Sexual attraction to a client is
also known as erotic countertransference. Before considering
termination, the social worker should explore the issue in
supervision. How is the intimacy of therapy being confused with
other types of intimacy? How to remedy?
Make sense? Great. Want more questions? Sign up with SWTP for complete, realistic
social work licensing exam practice tests.