Date of Dissertation


Document Type



Social Work


Social workers are responsible for interpreting their professional code of ethics in such a way that they can provide competent services dependably. This banded dissertation explores the effects of those interpretations. Symbolic interactionism provides a useful framework for understanding the ways in which people can interpret the same situation in different ways.

A systematic review of the literature reveals that social workers’ perceptions of what constitutes ethical and unethical practice are inconsistent. These inconsistencies can, at times, lead to social workers engaging in unethical or unprofessional practice.

An exploratory mixed methods study examines a group of social workers disciplined by a state licensing board and found that the experience had significant psychological and vocational impacts on their lives.

A Council on Social Work Education conference workshop exploring the polarities of social work ethics ties together the learning from the systematic review and the mixed methods research studies.

Perception and context are important contributors to how social workers make practice decisions. For social work education, this means more of a teaching focus on critical thinking involved in decision-making, and gatekeeping support for students who cannot demonstrate such skills. The research implications are many, such as exploring social workers’ perceived responsibilities to restore the "in-group" status of their colleagues who have been disciplined.