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Ethical Online Social Work

telehealthAmong the giant changes the pandemic has wrought, for many social workers, following CDC guidelines means no longer working face to face with clients. Along with all that's lost when not seeing someone in person, the non-verbal communication, the shared-in-room experience, what's also missing is perhaps a certainty about how to practice ethically. Online, virtual social work isn't just a one-for-one swap with face-to-face social work. There are new, vexing issues to tackle, most involving security, privacy, and confidentiality.

Here's a page of telehealth help from the NASW. And another from the CA NASW. And here's an Eye on Ethics article on the subject: Virtuous Virtual Social Work, which adds questions about boundaries and dual relationships to the virtual social work concerns pile.

Is it possible to practice telehealth ethically? Of course it is? It just takes a little extra care and learning up top.

Now, imagine what ASWB exam writers might come up with having read the above articles (which is just the sort of thing they might do as they're digging around for more question material). How would you write a question to assess a beginning social worker's competence and ethicality in the realm of telehealth? Something about informed consent? Something about HIPAA? Something about a client refusing telehealth sessions or insisting upon an insecure platform?

That's one way to tackle tricky subject on the licensing exam, as you're preparing and as you're taking the exam. Put yourself in the test-question writer's shoes. What might a question about any given topic look like? And, once you're sitting down for the real thing, ask yourself, "What is this question getting at? Why is it on the exam?"

The answer to that question may direct you to the correct answer to the question in front of you.

Can't come up with anything? Just like virtual meetings with clients, virtual study groups can be a big help. Challenge each other to come up with new questions. And, if you're really proud of what you come up with, send it in. Maybe we'll post it here.

Good luck with your ethical telehealth practice and good luck with the exam!

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