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Ethical Standards

California Legal Description of Practice

Section 4996.9 of the California Business and Professions Code defines the practice of clinical social work as:

“… a service in which a special knowledge of social resources, human capabilities, and the part that unconscious motivation plays in determining behavior, is directed at helping people to achieve more adequate, satisfying, and productive social adjustments. The application of social work principles and methods includes, but is not restricted to, counseling and using applied psychotherapy of a nonmedical nature with individuals, families, or groups; providing information and referral services; providing or arranging for the provision of social services; explaining or interpreting the psychosocial aspects in the situations of individuals, families, or groups; helping communities to organize, to provide or to improve social or health services; or doing research related to social work.”

Clinical Social Work Defined

by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work

Clinical social work is a practice specialty of the social work profession. It builds upon generic values, ethics, principles, practice methods, and the person-in-environment perspective of the profession. Its purposes are to:

  • diagnose and treat bio-psycho-social disability and impairment, including mental and emotional disorders and developmental disabilities.
  • achieve optimal prevention of bio-psycho-social dysfunction
  • support and enhance bio-psycho-social strengths and functioning.

Clinical social work practice applies specific knowledge, theories, and methods to assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning, intervention, and outcome evaluation.

Practice knowledge incorporates theories of biological, psychological, and social development. It includes, but is not limited to, an understanding of human behavior and psychopathology, human diversity, interpersonal relationships and family dynamics; mental disorders, stress, chemical dependency, interpersonal violence, and consequences of illness or injury; impact of physical, social and cultural environment; and cognitive, affective, and behavioral manifestations of conscious and unconscious processes.

Clinical social work interventions include, but are not limited to, assessment and diagnosis, crisis intervention, psychosocial and psychoeducational interventions, and brief and long-term psychotherapies. Theses interventions are applied within the context of professional relationships with individuals, couples, families, and groups. Clinical social work practice includes client-centered clinical supervision and consultation with professional colleagues.

Adopted February 12, 1995

Ethical Consultations

Clinical Social Workers confront ethical dilemmas, whether in agency or private practice, regarding issues such as:

  • Confidentiality
  • Reporting requirements
  • Termination

CSCSW members can receive an over-the-phone ethics consultation from a trained ethics consultant free of charge.

If you are unsure if your concern is ethical, legal or clinical, please call anyway. In our shared experience, most ethical consultations touch on all three aspects. We will refer, if appropriate. Consultations are private, not confidential.

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CSCSW | PO Box 880712 | San Diego, CA 92168-0712 | (310) 254-9471 |

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