Book Review: Essential Ethics for Social Work Practice


     In Essential Ethics for Social Work Practice, Barsky’s note for instructors discusses the intent of the text as providing concise guidance for generalist level practitioners. He upholds this assertion throughout the text. The fourteen chapters outline key considerations for generalist social work ethics, opening with an introduction to social work values and ethics (Chapter 1) and introducing a practical ethical decision-making model in Chapter 2. 

     Throughout the text, Barsky applies moral theory clearly to the concepts and examples provided. The seamless connection of the different perspectives, virtue ethics, legalism, deontology, and consequentialist approaches, within the critical thinking step of the ethical decision-making model, fosters awareness of multiple approaches and perspectives.

     The chapter on social justice (Chapter 3) with linkage to ideological perspectives assists the reader in further understanding the concept and applying it to practice, an often difficult concept to grasp. Discussion of the differing social justice approaches assists one to analyze concepts fully.

     Chapters 3 -5 highlight common dilemmas in practice and outline legal and ethical considerations to encourage ethical practice. From processes of informed consent to privacy and confidentiality, the author explains basic concepts.

     In addition to an overview of conceptual information related to professional and cultural competence, Chapters 7 and 8 include additional strategies helpful to managing some of the challenges that arise, as well as practical considerations for new and developing social workers.

     Chapter 9 on boundaries highlights different forms of boundaries and conflict of interest. It omits discussion of other features of boundaries, such as self-disclosure, which would have strengthened this discussion.

    Chapters 10 and 11 provide application of ethical concepts at the agency level with practical strategies for confronting ethical situations in practice. Social workers’ roles as advocates for standards of social work practice, as well as access and services to clients, are reinforced.

     Barsky devotes one entire chapter to honesty and integrity and follows that one with chapters on accountability and risk management. In doing so, he provides a holistic guide for beginning practitioners.

     He concludes the text by going full circle with the connection between ethical theory and practice, encouraging readers to consider where social work is headed in the future.  Overall, the text provides practical examples and ample prompts for reflection on the concepts.

     While this text is good reading for any social worker with its down-to-earth style and excellent examples, the discussion questions and exercises at the end of each chapter could be integrated within teaching in an undergraduate or MSW generalist ethics course. The currency of the literature and inclusion of trending topics makes the text particularly relevant for use both in the classroom and as a suggested read for practicing social workers.

Reviewed by Joan Groessl, MSW, PhD, LCSW, Associate Professor and Social Work Professional Programs Department Chair, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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