Understanding the Code of Ethics and the ASWB Exam

Understanding the Code of Ethics and the ASWB Exam

Whether you’re preparing for the Bachelors (BSW), Masters (LMSW), or Clinical (LCSW) level Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Licensing Exam, be prepared to be asked several tough questions about The Code of Ethics on test day. As one of the most important aspects of the ASWB licensing exams, we’ll explore:

  • What The Code of Ethics Is
  • Why The Code of Ethics is Important
  • How to Review The Code of Ethics
  • Types of Exam Questions to Prepare For

What is the NASW Code of Ethics?

The National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics is based upon six core values and outlines a set of standards of professional conduct that is expected of all social workers, regardless of their degree or area of practice. The Code robustly outlines the core values and the ethical standards and principles to guide those working in the social work profession.

Here is a condensed breakdown of the six core values that the NASW Code of Ethics is based upon.

1. Service — To work towards addressing social problems and serving people in need.

2.  Social Justice — To challenge injustices in the social system and work for changes to improve the lives of oppressed and vulnerable people.

3. Dignity and Worth of the Person — To show respect for every person and be mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity.

4. Importance of Human Relationships — To recognize the importance and value of human relationships, and to work to strengthen such relationships with the goal of enhancing the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

5. Integrity — To be trustworthy and uphold the values, mission and ethical principles and ethical standards of the profession.

6. Competence — To practice within areas of competence, continuously expand professional expertise and knowledge, and contribute to the knowledge of the social work profession.

The Code of Ethics was updated in 2021, and it addresses the importance of cultural humility and professional self-care for social workers.

The Importance of the Code of Ethics

Ethical practices should be expected in all fields of work, but professional ethics are at the very core of all careers in social work. The NASW Code of Ethics is relevant to social work students and social workers regardless of their functions in the profession, the setting of their work, and the populations they serve.

The NASW Code of Ethics reflects the NASW’s core values that are commanded by the profession, so knowing them thoroughly is essential. Beyond setting forth core values and ethical standards, the Code is designed to help those in social work positions identify scenarios when ethical or professional obligations conflict with a mission.

The code is particularly important in the public eye as well, as they have a reasonable expectation to hold those in the social work profession to higher standards of accountability. Knowing the code in its entirety also gives you guidelines for assessing whether your peers have engaged in unethical conduct.

That being said, the Code doesn’t provide a set of precise rules that dictate how social workers should act in every situation. Specific guidelines in the Code have to be considered in reference to individual situations and how they could possibly conflict with the values, principles, and standards of the Code itself.

Keeping yourself mindful and accountable is only possible with a solid understanding of the Code of Ethics. Should an ethics complaint be filed against you, formal procedures could be mandated. Consequences could result in licensure suspension or revocation, depending on the ruling made by the NASW disciplinary committee.

How to Review the Code of Ethics

It will take more than one or two read-overs of the Code to fully grasp what it means to you and your social work career—a lot more. Of course, if it’s your first time reading it over, do just that: passively read it over once or twice to get a feel for the overall gist of the basic concepts of the principles and standards. However, don’t expect to actually retain much of what you read.

Long before the exam, you’ll have to dive deeper and read it section by section, taking in chunks of the material a bit at a time. Do this over several sittings, so your mind can absorb the concepts while considering ethical scenarios and the best response in accordance with the Code of Ethics. This will help you master the ethics questions on the ASWB Licensing Exam.

Types of Code-Related Questions to Prepare for on the ASWB

Whether you are testing at a Bachelors, Masters, or Clinical level, be prepared to see a number of questions that rely on your knowledge of the Code of Ethics. The test includes questions concerning what is the best action a social worker should take in a number of given situations.

Because the exam is in a multiple-choice format, each answer option has the potential to technically be correct. However, to get the right answer, license applicants must have the ability to identify the correct one based on the best practices based on the Code within a specified clinical situation. Some areas of the code that you might expect to see on the exam include concepts including:

  • Techniques for enhancing and protecting a client’s determination and self-determination.
  • Making judgment decisions on a client’s competence and self-determination.
  • Client’s right to refuse services.
  • Culture, diversity, and humility.
  • Personal conflicts of basic values and religious beliefs.
  • Client’s privacy as it relates to treatment.
  • Personal or intimate relationships with clients and co-workers/dual relationships.
  • Incidences of possible racism, oppression, discrimination, and inequities.
  • Protection of electronic information and paper files/notes.

Of course, this is a limited list, and you never know just what might pop up on the exam! This is why it’s so important to be extremely knowledgeable about the entire Code of Ethics. Take plenty of practice exams to get a better feel for the style of these questions and to be well prepared for ethics-related questions.

► Learn more about my course here: https://agentsofchangeprep.com/

A little bit about me: I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I have been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, I have created a course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

Find more from Agents of Change here:

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► Podcast: https://anchor.fm/agents-of-change-sw

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Disclaimer: This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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