My bestie is getting her MSW (Master’s in Social Work) right now, so when she learned what happened with Zooey…let’s just say she was not impressed. In fact, one of her first reactions was to reassure me that this was most definitely NOT an acceptable way for Social Workers to behave. Zooey is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and since I’ve been learning about medical ethics in my own studies, I was curious if Bestie had been learning something similar in her MSW program. I not-so-discretely asked her about the ethics surrounding social work practice. She sent me a link to the NASW (National Association for Social Workers) Code of Ethics. Here is what is listed under “Termination of Services”:
1.16 Termination of Services
(a) Social workers should terminate services to clients and professional relationships with them when such services and relationships are no longer required or no longer serve the clients’ needs or interests.
(b) Social workers should take reasonable steps to avoid abandoning clients who are still in need of services. Social workers should withdraw services precipitously only under unusual circumstances, giving careful consideration to all factors in the situation and taking care to minimize possible adverse effects. Social workers should assist in making appropriate arrangements for continuation of services when necessary.
(c) Social workers in fee-for-service settings may terminate services to clients who are not paying an overdue balance if the financial contractual arrangements have been made clear to the client, if the client does not pose an imminent danger to self or others, and if the clinical and other consequences of the current nonpayment have been addressed and discussed with the client.
(d) Social workers should not terminate services to pursue a social, financial, or sexual relationship with a client.
(e) Social workers who anticipate the termination or interruption of services to clients should notify clients promptly and seek the transfer, referral, or continuation of services in relation to the clients’ needs and preferences.
(f) Social workers who are leaving an employment setting should inform clients of appropriate options for the continuation of services and of the benefits and risks of the options.
Okay, so here’s my response to various parts of this:
(a) To be fair, the therapeutic relationship that Zooey and I had probably was NOT serving me anymore, so she was not necessarily wrong to end therapy.
(b) I do not believe Zooey took “reasonable steps” to avoid abandoning me. She did it out of nowhere with absolutely NO warning. And should she argue that I was not “still in need of services”, I would remind her that the major explanation she gave for termination was that I needed a therapist more skilled and qualified to handle my case because I was “getting worse” and “developing new issues”. She did technically assist in making appropriate arrangements. Sorta. She gave my ONE name of a therapist with experience working with multiples in the termination session, which was a male who worked hella far away from me. Then in the final session, she gave me three more names and the number to an eating disorders clinic. But not a single appointment had been set up nor had I even made contact with any of these people when she just stopped seeing me.
(e) She did technically notify me “promptly” when she decided to end services, but it also happened to be on the same exact day she was ending them. As far as continuation of services? See response to part (b) above.
In my medical ethics class, we’ve been talking a lot about the difference between what is legal and what is ethical. Sure, Zooey did not break any laws by terminating with me the way she did, but as I’ve clearly just pointed out, her actions were highly unethical. The NASW website also offers a link to report unethical behavior by a Social Worker.
Will I report Zooey? No. But do I find comfort from knowing that what she did was wrong according to her own professional organization and that I could report her if I wanted to? Hell yes.