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Sunday, May 1

Do the Right Thing: Ethics Resources on the Internet

Kathleen Murphy, PhD, LCSW

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the NASW Code of Ethics it seems fitting to look at the contemporary sources of ethical thinking and information as found on the Internet. Since last I wrote about social work and mental health ethics on the Web there have been some significant changes. Many of the Web sites which I identified for social workers have either changed or are no longer functional. This speaks to the transient nature of the web and is important to keep in mind when using the Internet either for providing mental health services or for accessing information related to clinical practice. That said, the web remains a wealth of information about clinical and ethical practice.

 Codes of ethics:

An important and significant addition to the Internet is that all significant professional standards and codes of ethics related to social work are posted online. This means the same resources are available to anyone who wants to read and use them which is an important change for professionals and consumers of mental health services.

 The online version of the NASW Code of Ethics and related standards can be found at the website of the national office: http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp. The print version remains available but it is more efficient and cost effective to use the online version. In addition to the NASW, for those who are members, the Clinical Social Work Federation Code is being updated and is available at: http://www.cswf.org/www/CSWF%20Ethics%20Code%20Prtctd.pdf. This is in PDF format which means it can be read as well as printed but is not interactive in terms of search features. For those intrigued by professional standards, a comprehensive list of codes can be found at the International Federation of Social Workers web site under the National Codes of Ethics of Social Work adopted by IFSW Member organizations (http://www.ifsw.org/Publications/4.4.1.pub.html. ) I have found the Australian Code to be quite satisfying because the standards are listed by social work value which is consistent with how we do ethical reasoning.

 Other codes which may be of interest to social workers and their colleagues include:

 • The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapist (AAMFT) Code of Ethics, revised in 2001: http://www.aamft.org/resources/LRMPlan/Ethics/ethicscode2001.asp.

• The American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/ethics/) code was revised in 2003 and is important because there is an attempt to include the technology used by mental health professionals.

• The American Psychiatric Association code (www.psych.org) has not been revised in a number of years but there is an ethics opinion file from the APA Ethics Committee and an ethics primer both of which are well worth looking at for exploring applied ethics in mental health.

• The National Board of Certified Counselors code, revised 2002 is available at http://www.nbcc.org/depts/ethicsmain.htm. In addition to a standard code, the NBCC has a very complete set of ethical standards for the practice of Internet counseling which no other association even attempts to address.

 Other professional codes of nonmental health professionals which social workers might work with such as teachers, nurses, physicians, and so forth can also be found online at the respective professional organizations.

 Ethical Decision making:

In addition to codes of ethics, there are some really excellent web sites which provide theoretical discussions of moral reasoning as well as discussions of applied ethics. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics (http://www.scu.edu/ethics/ ) is an excellent resource which offers a wealth of information regarding ethical decision making, moral philosophy, educational and other resources for educators as well as students. The Ethics Tool Kit (http://www.ethics.org/toolkit.html) includes resources for analyzing and developing codes of ethics. This site also includes an excellent page on Frequently Asked Questions about ethics and while neither of these sites is specifically about social work ethics, they contain reliable and authoritative information and resources. For those of you concerned about a broader spectrum of ethics and ethical issues, you may want to look at the Ethics Web,

http://www.ethicsweb.ca/resources/ which is a totally bizarre-looking site run by Chris MacDonald that is one of the few resources that covers professional, business, environmental and animal welfare ethics all at the same site.

 A new addition to social work ethics online is an opportunity for ethical discussion that can be found at the Social Work Forum Online: http://www.socialworker.com/home/Feature_Articles/Ethics/. This site is for new graduates so some of the questions are basic; nonetheless, some of the discussion is good. The ethics forum is new so it will be interesting to see if it lasts online. However, it is does provide the opportunity for anyone to be able to ask questions and get a variety of responses. It does not seem to be largely academic which also makes it appealing.

 Online Clinical Social Work:

Anyone contemplating providing clinical services online should spend time researching the issues as well as looking at the many articles, papers and resources provided by the International Society of Mental Health Online ( http://www.ismho.org/.) There are many discussion groups and a wealth of information discussing the pros and cons and what does and what does not work practically and ethically. This site is mostly for and by senior clinicians and provides typically reliable and authoritative information but as with all web resources, it is important to be a critical reader. There are some outstanding articles on various clinical issues online available through Selfhelp Magazine (http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/).

 I encourage all clinicians to read the articles under “Internet Psychology” for a better understanding of the clinical issues as well as the experiences of clients using online mental health services. It is eye opening both pro and con.

 Although it is difficult to find information online that is directly targeted to social work ethics per se, there are a number of resources that provide thought provoking content and raise many opportunities for discussion in the classroom, at staff meetings and in clinical and ethical consultation.

 vAs of March 28, 2005 all links included in this article are working but in the event there is a misprint, sites can be accessed by the name of the organization using any reliable search engine.

Posted on 05/01/05 at 01:22 PM

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