Dual-role relationships in social work practice

 

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Consider this scenario:

You receive a hotline call at your mental health agency from a client requesting a same-day appointment. You are the only social worker available to work with clients at the time, as your coworker is out of town on vacation for 10 days. A 15-year-old boy struggling with depression (no suicidal ideation) and addiction calls asking for help. While you are gathering information over the phone, you realize that he happens to be the son of a friend. Do you continue the process, planning on providing him with services, or do you refer him to another mental health clinic that is over 30 miles away? Do you make him wait until your coworker returns? Do you contact his parents and tell them he called?

In certain geographical areas there may be limited resources and in turn a lack of opportunities for clients to obtain assistance. In some rural or otherwise isolated areas there might be situations that make it difficult to maintain ideal boundaries due to dual-role relationships. Dual-role relationships exist when a professional fills multiple roles at the same time, a situation that may be unavoidable in certain circumstances.

Understanding the significant impact of a dual-role relationship with a client is important in order to avoid harming the client. Further, recognizing the impact on the client and the relationship will assist in the creation of strong professional boundaries. In these situations, a social worker might feel his or her ability to maintain these boundaries is compromised or may even experience a value dilemma due to the existence of dual-role relationships.

Consider the importance of boundaries in a therapeutic relationship. Think about ways a social worker might violate the NASW Code of Ethics as it pertains to dual-role relationships. Is there ever a situation in which dual-role relationships are acceptable, or even preferable?

 Post an explanation of how you might respond to the situation with the 15-year-old boy on the hotline. Include ways your decision may impact the client. Support your position with references to this week’s resources, professional experience, and additional research. How will you address a possible dual-role relationship? 

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