But first, another pop quiz.*
A social worker working in an agency notices that her colleague, overwhelmed by personal and professional stressors, has developed a substance abuse problem and has shown up to work with poor concentration and at other times visibly impaired. What is the social worker’s FIRST course of action?
A. Report her colleague to the state licensing board.
B. Counsel her colleague on ways to manage her problems and reduce stressors.
C. Speak to the colleague directly about her concerns.
D. Speak to an agency supervisor.
This one looks tricky because at a certain point of severity, some choices may be appropriate.
B would be inappropriate right off the bat because even though our peers can be invaluable supports at work, in this specific situation, it can place the workers in a dual-relationship and make both liable for harm or poor care rendered to clients.
If you decided to bring in the big guns right away and picked A, ouch. At a certain point, it can be appropriate, but here’s where the question’s modifying word, FIRST, becomes important.
The answer is then C, because the social worker is taking a first step to both protect clients and, in good faith, allow her colleague to seek remedial action by authentically communicating concern. If this doesn’t work, then choices like D and A would apply, respectively.
The Code of Ethics (which also has a section on resolution of conflict and ethical “chain of action”) not only values our relationships with our clients, but also our relationships with our colleagues, especially because they are so crucial to the work that we do and help us grow.
As social workers, it’s important to have the humility to recognize that the same (or rather, similar) psychosocial stressors that affect our clients can affect our life unpredictably. However, by catching them on time or before they develop into full-blown impairments, we protect both our clients and ourselves.
What are you doing to self-care this weekend?
*Sample questions are made up and based on similar but nonidentical questions seen on practice items and 1996 NASW Code of Ethics sections.