Social Worker Commitment to Clients and the Social Work Exam

commitment to clientsStarting today, a new initiative: Let's start taking the NASW Code of Ethics section by section, sketching out how the ASWB exam use each a test question. Because you can be sure that's how a good chunk of the exam is being written. Writer X sits down to a blank page and has to make questions appear. Where to turn? How about the Code of Ethics?

First up (for us and for the imaginary Writer X), the first section of the Code, 1.01, Commitment to Clients. It says:

Social workers' primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients' interests are primary. However, social workers' responsibility to the larger society or specific legal obligations may on limited occasions supersede the loyalty owed clients, and clients should be so advised. (Examples include when a social worker is required by law to report that a client has abused a child or has threatened to harm self or others.)

Unlike the rest of the Code, this section actually suggests its own exam questions. Abuse calls, duty to warn...anything about reporting is rooted, at least in part, in 1.01. So, here's today's free practice question:

A social worker meets with a client who says she's been thinking of killing herself by jumping off a freeway overpass. What should the social worker do?

That sounds serious. Suicidal ideation and a plan. Let's see the answer options...

A. Report the client's plans to the police.

B. Initiate a psychiatric hold.

C. Discuss the timeframe of the client's plan.

D. Explore the roots of the client's suicidality.

In essence, the questions asks, to report or not to report? The client has S/I and plan about how to do it. So how do you answer? There's one big thing missing here--a when. Lots of people think about suicide and how they'd attempt. Fewer people actually make an attempt. Does this client intend to carry out her plan? The vignette doesn't say. That means, more assessment is needed before a report should be made. That narrows things down to C or D. D may be helpful in ongoing therapy, but it doesn't address the here and now reporting question. The way to get that answers is to ask the client about her intent (aka "discuss the timeframe"). Voila, an answer.

For realistic exam practice about 1.01 and much more, sign up!

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HIPAA and the Social Work Exam

hipaa and the social work exam Here's something you can reasonably expect to see covered on the social work licensing exam: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA for short. If you've worked in an agency, you've very likely encountered HIPAA rules, HIPAA trainings, and, perhaps, HIPAA headaches. On the exam, HIPAA may show up in an item about record sharing. A client requests access to psychotherapy notes, say. Or a client sues a social worker and requests access to psychotherapy notes. How do you answer? Know your HIPAA. Here are a couple of key sections from the CSWA's helpful HIPAA explanation page:

Patient Rights

...include the right to receive a health care provider's Notice of Privacy Practices, and the opportunity to object or opt-out of certain types of communications... The Privacy Standards also provide individuals the right to access PHI, and the right to request amendments to PHI. One of the things HIPAA attempts to do is make it easier for individuals to access their PHI. As such, clients have the right to inspect and copy their PHI, in whole or in part, for as long as the covered entity maintains the information...

Psychotherapy Notes

Psychotherapy Notes are a specific category in the HIPAA rule. Psychotherapy notes are what most clinicians call "process notes" or the actual verbal and non-verbal record of what takes place in the therapy session. The HIPAA description of psychotherapy notes is "raw data." Psychotherapy notes are specifically protected in the HIPAA rule and belong to the clinician. The general rule is that a clinician may not use or disclose psychotherapy notes for any purpose, including most treatment, payment and healthcare operations, unless the client's authorization is obtained. Specific exceptions where an authorization is not required include use by the originator of the notes for supervision and training purposes; and uses for defense in a legal action...

Additionally, psychotherapy are, according to HIPAA, supposed to remain separate from the rest of the client's records.

How should client information be stored? How long do you have to store records? HIPAA has answers for these questions as well. Knowing them should give you a leg up on the exam.

More HIPAA pages worth a look:


For exam questions about HIPAA and lots more, get started with SWTP by signing up!


[Post by Will Baum, LCSW]

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GAF Quiz

Via Pass the ASWB Exam, here's a quick, sort of fun way to test your accuracy assigning GAF scores. It's the Global Assessment of Function (GAF) Training from the Washington Institute and the Washington State Mental Health Division.  Includes a series of client vignettes and an empty box. Guess the GAF! The site links to the GAF categories, if you need a refresher and don't have a DSM handy. Happy gaffing!

what's my gaf


UPDATE: The GAF is no longer used in DSM-5 (nor in the social work licensing exam). 

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Behavioral Psych and the Social Work Exam

dog rides trike toward social work exam success The principles of behavioral psychology are easy to learn...and just as easy to confuse or forget. Here are some places to bone up:

Don't forget to positively reinforce your efforts to ride smoothly through the social work exam!

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Erik Erikson and the Social Work Exam

Erik_Erikson Here's more material you may have known for a moment in school and then forgotten: Erik Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development. Now worth reviewing as you prepare for the social work licensing exam. has it covered for you:

Young adults, get intimate with this information; middle adults, nurture your knowledge; mature adults, reflect on these stages!

More Erikson, in real-exam form, of course, in our practice exam.

Good luck!

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