Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type

Mixed methods


School for Social Work


Psychotherapy-Moral and ethical aspects, Ethical problems, Ethical problems-Psychological aspects, Social workers-Attitudes, Social work ethics, Ethical dilemmas in social work, Social worker responses to ethical dilemmas


This mixed-methods exploratory research was undertaken to gain insight into how social workers perceive, are affected by, and respond to situations in which they are not able to enact social work ethics, or are asked to facilitate perceived injustice because of workplace restrictions. Seventy-four social workers responded to my online mixed methods survey. In quantitative responses, Likert scaled responses rated participants’ frequency and level of distress when encountering ethical dilemmas involving structural racism, classism, cultural insensitivity, sexism, heterosexism, protocols prioritizing funding over client care, protocols interfering with the treatment relationship, and protocols interfering with client self-determination. Participants also rated their sense of burnout related to structurally imposed ethical dilemmas. Both descriptive statistics were derived, and correlations were obtained between demographic information and quantitative response re: frequency and distress. Qualitative text boxes allowed descriptions of experiences with ethical dilemmas in more detail – e.g., information about roles and social work settings in which dilemmas took place, and descriptions of participants’ suffering and action in relation to dilemmas. The study opens new avenues for social work as a profession to explore in the interest of preserving its loyalty to the social work code of ethics, and the individual social workers’ well-being and professional satisfaction.




iv, 73 pages. M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 62-63)

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Social Work Commons