Ethical dilemmas in terminating services with clients

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One of the most significant issues concerning being a social worker is that one should be prepared to handle difficult issues such as the termination of services. This situation comes about especially when one considers that it is essential to ensure that the termination process is conducted in such a way that ensures protection of clients as well as the minimization of risk to them (Weil, Katz, & Hilsenroth, 2017). It is essential that during this process, there is an ethical method through which the termination takes place because it is the only way through which to ensure that there is a minimization of clients either becoming a threat to themselves or to society (Bhatia & Gelso, 2017). The achievement of this goal is fundamental because it ensures that clients are not abandoned but instead are provided with other avenues through which their issues can be effectively resolved. It is the moral obligation of the social worker to ensure that their clients are provided with the means to continue their sessions with other social workers following termination in order to avoid abandonment (Norcross, Zimmerman, Greenberg, & Swift, 2017). The latter is a legal concept where because of unethical termination; the client does not have a professional available when he is needed the most. A consequence is that the client ends up in a situation where he is unable to obtain the help that he needs because the social worker has refused to undertake his obligations seriously (Mallinckrodt, Choi, & Daly, 2015). Therefore, the achievement of the goal of an ethical termination of services by the social worker and the recommendation of someone else to undertake the services ensures that the client is left in safe hands and is not abandoned.

Ethical Theories

One of the most significant ethical theories that have to be considered when handling the issue of termination with a client is that of proportionality. This is a moral theory that seeks to advance the interests of the parties involved in such a way that the consequences of a choice or decision are considered (Latkovic, 2017). Therefore, when making a decision to terminate services, it is essential for the social worker to consider whether the process will bring more benefits than harm, or bring about more harm than benefits. In the end, it becomes essential to select the former because the good of the client should be the highest priority for the social worker. In the case of TJ, it is essential to ensure that her interests are made a priority in such a way that ensures that she understands the reasons behind the termination. This is especially considering that she has made significant progress during the counseling sessions and has been able to overcome some of her more pressing issues such as gossiping and bullying. However, when she learns of the upcoming termination of services, TJ feels that she is essential being abandoned, and ends up in a situation where she regresses. According to proportionalism, it is essential to make sure that there is the advancement of means through which the interests of TJ are protected despite the termination. The process has to be balanced in such a way that she received the attention of another counselor as soon as possible following the termination so that her sessions are not interrupted and she gets over her feeling of abandonment quickly.

The other ethical approach that has to be considered is the deontological approach. This approach is one that suggests that it is essential for individuals to ensure that all of their actions are guided by duty rather than their consequences (Birnbaum & Lach, 2014). A result is that the consequence does not matter as long as the intentions of the individual undertaking the action are good. This is an important approach when it comes to the case of the termination of services with TJ. The latter, despite feeling abandoned as a result of the termination of counseling services, has been offered an opportunity to continue sessions with Ms. Aaron. This step has been taken by her previous counselor to ensure that TJ is not left in a difficult position where she is unable to advance in her treatment because she feels abandoned. Her previous counselor has decided to make sure that her interests are provided for before the termination of services. Therefore, despite her feelings, the current counselor had acted in good faith and has put every one of her actions in TJ’s interests. The latter approach can be considered deontological because it has been conducted out of the good that the counselor has towards the client. Deontology is therefore fundamental in making sure that there is the creation of an environment where the individuals involved not only feel comfortable, but are also allowed an opportunity to achieve their goals. However, despite the client’s feelings of abandonment, it is essential to consider that her counselor’s intentions were good and her objectives were well-intentioned.

Laws and Mandates

There are legal rulings that have set precedents concerning the issue of termination and abandonment. Among the most important of these are Capps v. Valk (1962), Collins v. Meeker (1967), and Sparks v. Hicks (1996), which ensured that there were means through which termination could be handled effectively (Davis & Younggren, 2009). These judgements make clear that experts are under no compulsion to continue treatment in circumstances where they feel that they can no longer continue with treatment, especially when they are not ethically obligated to do so. The opinions of the patient under such circumstances do not matter and the decision on how to handle the situation is left solely in the hands of the counselor. However, despite their having the upper hand legally, it is the legal obligation of counselors to ensure that there is the advancement of clients’ interests through the provision of relevant referrals where they can continue their treatment. It is also provided that the counselor provides the client with enough time within which the latter can be able to obtain treatment. Therefore, the counselor has to make sure that he does not abandon a client or a case without the provision of the necessary notices and prospect to secure the services of another expert. To do so would be deemed unethical practice and could lead the counselor being subjected to the consequences and liability that comes about as a result of abandoning the client.

NASW Code Standards

One of the most important NASW standards that should be followed by social workers is the need to ensure that they do not abandon their clients, especially those who are still want their services. Social workers have to ensure that when they withdraw services under unusual circumstances, they have to give consideration to all the factors that are involved in the situation so that the adverse effects can be minimized (Reamer, 2015). Furthermore, it is essential for social workers to bring about a situation where they make alternative arrangements so that their clients can be able to receive necessary services. It is also essential for the social workers who anticipate termination to inform their clients as early as possible so that they can help their clients to seek medical appointment or continuation of services according to the requests and preferences of the client (Congress, 2017). Social workers should also inform their clients when they are leaving an employment setting so that appropriate arrangements can be made for the continuation of services for the clients. The latter’s benefits and risks following the termination have to be weighed to ensure that there is the analysis of the best options available where continuation of services can take place for the benefit of the client. Therefore, the NASW Code is essential in the advancement of means through which to ensure that there is the creation of avenues that will protect the client in case there is termination of services by the social worker. The code’s role in protecting clients ensures that issues of abandonment are dealt with effectively and that clients are better able to handle the shock of termination.

Ethical Principles

One of the most important ethical principles that have to be observed by social workers at all times is to ensure that once services begin, they do not get terminated abruptly. This is because the interests of the client should be put first and it is essential for the social worker to make sure that they conform to the ethical standards that have been set for them in case they have no option other to terminate. The termination of services means that clients have to be provided with referrals which will not only cater to their interests, but also advance the treatment process in a manner that they find comfortable. Reasonable steps have to be taken by social workers to make sure that they do not abandon their clients because the latter have the right to have their welfare protected at all times. Therefore, the withdrawal of services cannot take place abruptly and when the latter has to happen, it should only be under very unusual circumstances so that full consideration can be given to those factors that might bring about a situation where the client might be adversely affected. Consequently, it is the duty of the social worker to assist in making arrangements appropriately aimed at ensuring the continuation of services following termination.

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  1. Bhatia, A., & Gelso, C. J. (2017). The termination phase: Therapists’ perspective on the therapeutic relationship and outcome. Psychotherapy, 54(1), 76.
  2. Birnbaum, R., & Lach, L. (2014). Teaching about what ethical social work practice means: Responsibility starts with schools of social work. Intervention 2014, 140, 37-43.
  3. Congress, E. P. (2017). What social workers should know about ethics: Understanding and resolving practice dilemmas. Social Work Ethics, 1909.
  4. Davis, D. D., & Younggren, J. N. (2009). Ethical competence in psychotherapy termination. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(6), 572.
  5. Latkovic, M. S. (2017). Conflicts of Conscience for Catholic Healthcare Professionals Contemporary Controversies in Catholic Bioethics (pp. 583-603): Springer.
  6. Mallinckrodt, B., Choi, G., & Daly, K. D. (2015). Pilot test of a measure to assess therapeutic distance and its association with client attachment and corrective experience in therapy. Psychotherapy Research, 25(5), 505-517.
  7. Norcross, J. C., Zimmerman, B. E., Greenberg, R. P., & Swift, J. K. (2017). Do all therapists do that when saying goodbye? A study of commonalities in termination behaviors. Psychotherapy, 54(1), 66.
  8. Reamer, F. G. (2015). Clinical social work in a digital environment: Ethical and risk-management challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(2), 120-132.
  9. Weil, M. P., Katz, M., & Hilsenroth, M. J. (2017). Patient and therapist perspectives during the psychotherapy termination process: The role of participation and exploration. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 45(1), 23-43.
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