Moral Reasoning Values Paper

Moral Reasoning Values Paper
Jodie Annis
Wayne State University
Professor Schropshire
August 7, 2014


What is Moral Reasoning?
Our world is made up of many cultures all containing different morals.
Allan Edward Barsky in “Ethics and Values in Social Work” defines morals as
“a system of rules and principles that defines appropriate and inappropriate
behavior for an individual, family, community, or other social unit” (Barsky,
2010, pg. 415). Even with morals in place within a community, there are
many factors in human life that impact an individual’s moral reasoning.
The most researched and followed theory on moral development is,
Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. Even with its popularity there are
professionals that do not agree with it. This theory states that there are
three stages in moral development; pre-conventional reasoning,
conventional reasoning and post conventional reasoning. These steps move
a person from focusing fully on oneself to considering how they fit in society
and finally developing into an individual that considers how their decisions
impact others in society. The biggest argument that rises against Kohlberg’s
theory is that it does not leave any room for flexibility between different
Moral reasoning is the process one goes through in making moral
decisions. These decisions are impacted by biological, psychological and
social factors. Individuals have basic necessities that are required to sustain
life, such as food, shelter and clothing. If a moral decision is made when
these needs are not met, often it will cause the individual to deviate from the
moral codes of their culture. Once the basic needs are met the individual will


typically return once again to moral living. Other biological factors that play
a role are physical and mental illness.
Psychological factors include things such as attitudes and emotions.
Attitudes impact moral decision making in everyone. For example, if a
person’s attitude toward homeless individuals, or the mentally ill is deeply
rooted with negative thoughts, it is likely that they may mistreat these
people, breaking their culture’s moral code. It may also be very difficult to
change their mind about the pre-judgments they have made. Emotions
follow closely with attitudes. A typically forgiving and caring individual may
have a change of heart if a crime occurs to their child or close loved one.
The strong emotions that this type of event can impart, greatly influences
their moral reasoning.
Morals and Ethics
Morals and ethics are similar in many ways. They both deal with
decision making and determining what is acceptable and unacceptable. The
difference lies in the idea that morals are the rules that individuals live by
within their specific family or culture, while ethics are the moral codes that
individuals must abide by within a more professional setting, such as the
social work profession.
Morals and Ethics both exhibit different methods in decision making.
When engaging in moral decision making, depending on the stage of moral


development achieved, one only needs to look at their own cultural moral
code. This may be based on spiritual factors, social factors or both.
Spiritual factors also play a role in moral decision making. These
factors are typically beliefs that life involves something bigger than this
earth contains. When an individual believes there is a purpose bigger than
oneself it tends to influence the decisions that one makes. Social factors can
be just as powerful and sometimes more powerful than spiritual ones.
Humans tend to have a need to interact with one another. The importance of
these interactions, and need to be accepted, influences the moral decisions
Unlike moral decision making, Ethical decision making requires
individuals to recognize their moral values and understand how their
personal beliefs are impacting the decisions they are making. Ethical
guidelines are set to create a safe environment for clients and staff in
professional settings. Therefore, even if the ethical guidelines differ from
one’s personal moral code it is critical that the ethical code is not broken.
Moral decision making can occur at all levels of Kohlberg’s Theory because
they are solely based on one’s personal or cultural views, while ethical
decision making only occurs at the final level. This final level requires
considering how one’s decision is going to impact other individuals and in
some cases society as a whole.
Ethics and Morals in Social Work


As a professional social worker it is necessary to become competent in
both moral and ethical decision making. Without a good understanding of
how one makes moral decisions, a social worker would not be able to ensure
their personal beliefs were not interfering with the ethical decisions that they
are faced with each day. For example, if a social worker makes a personal
moral decision that homosexuality is wrong, but their ethical code
determines it to be ethical it would be unethical for them to try to change
their clients sexual orientation.
Social workers are continually faced with putting their client’s needs
above their own. This requires social workers to continually self-reflect on
one’s moral code and how it impacts their ethical decision making.
Biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors all influence one’s
decision making, ultimately impacting one’s client.
The biological need for food can influence individuals in many ways. In
most cultures, when a friend offers one food it is morally acceptable to eat
the meal and sometimes offensive if one refuses the food. As social workers,
often working long hours and going into client’s homes, meals can
sometimes be missed. Therefore, when a client offers a plate of cookies, or
food of some type, it may be morally acceptable to eat the offered food, but
as social workers it is necessary to maintain ethical boundaries. Social
workers must consider the needs of the client above their own. They cannot
take the food to calm their hunger pains, but instead must first consider if it
is going to harm or help their client.


Like food, Psychological factors are impacting social workers moral and
ethical decision making. Attitudes and emotions drive individuals in making
decisions. Attitudes about different subjects begin developing at a young
age and typically reflect the culture that one grows up in. For example, an
individual growing up in a religious family typically holds a pro-life stance,
having little tolerance for those that choose to abort an unborn child. As a
social worker, in order to remain ethical, this attitude must be set aside when
dealing with a client who is considering an abortion. In these types of
situations, the clients need to make their decision independent of the social
workers opinion is vital.
Like attitudes, emotions can run strong from a young age about a
variety of topics. Often in life, decisions can be based almost entirely on
emotions and how one feels instead of on logic. For example, If a social
worker has just gone through a divorce and a client comes in with a marriage
struggling in similar ways, it would be important for the social worker to
continually be self-reflecting to ensure that their personal emotions are not
impacting the counseling sessions. The social worker would need to use selfdisclosure with caution, always ensuring that the disclosing is benefiting the
client and not the social worker.
Social workers are impacted by the same social factors that the rest of
the world is impacted by. Social learning, social identity, and social context
play an important role in developing each individual. Social learning is
learning that occurs through observing other behaviors. It is important for a


social worker to be aware of the things they have obtained socially and the
things they have retained from critical thinking. An example of this is
believing that all mothers should stay at home with their small children
because their mother did this. While it is acceptable to have this personal
moral standard, as a social worker this type of socially learned behavior
cannot be intentionally imparted onto one’s client.
Social identity is another important topic for social workers to reflect
on. This includes identifying the different groups that one is connected with.
This may include political, religious, ethnic or cultural groups. Each group
plays a role in how one develops attitudes and opinions on different topics.
These attitudes and opinions can be unintentionally imparted to one’s
clients. Always being aware of one’s social identity will help a social worker
to maintain healthy ethical boundaries.
Consideration to social context must be given when dealing with any of
these topics. Situations are handled differently depending on the context in
which they occur. A psychotherapist is going to behave differently with her
clients than a high school social worker. In addition to this, a social worker
needs to handle situations with clients differently than with family. When a
social worker is performing professional duties it is paramount that company
policies and laws are abided by. Interactions with family can be more
relaxed, yet it is necessary to always be aware of the social learning that is
occurring when engaging in social activities.


Finally, spiritual factors are very important for social workers to reflect
on. While a social worker has every right to practice any religious or spiritual
activities they desire, it must be remembered that these are personal moral
standards and not ethical ones. Social workers need to be aware of their
personal beliefs and how they impact their ethical decision making. This
self-reflection will help them to maintain good ethical standards in their
interactions with clients.
All of these bio-psychosocial and spiritual factors influence one’s moral
decision making. As stated before every social worker lives in an
environment that is impacted by every category represented from an early
age. The difference between social workers and the general public is that
social workers must base their daily ethical decision making on factors that
are learned not in their social environment but instead through research
based studies. Therefore their decisions are not based on personal opinion,
but instead on facts.

Validity of Moral Choices
The social work profession uses the National Association of Social Work
Code of Ethics (NASW) in order to maintain a standard of ethical decision
making. Whether or not a social workers personal moral beliefs line up with
it does not determine if the Code is valid. Instead as professionals, social
workers must trust those that are in leadership within the profession to set


the guidelines to keep both the social worker and the client safe. If a social
worker feels that pedophilia is morally wrong and believes offenders deserve
to be locked away for life, then she is asked to treat a pedophilia on their
road to recovery, professionally she must behave ethically. To behave in an
ethical manor the social worker does not need to condone the behavior but
instead treat the client in a non-judgmental manor.
Ethical Dilemma
In the above mentioned case of a client presenting with a history of
pedophilia, the social worker is faced with an ethical dilemma. The social
worker must promote the wellbeing of her client because the NASW code
1.01 states the social worker needs to “promote the wellbeing of clients.”
The social worker also must always be aware of her personal prejudices and
judgments because NASW code 1.06 (a) states that social workers should
“avoid conflicts of interest that interfere with the exercise of professional
discretion and impartial judgment.” The social workers personal feelings on
pedophilia may make it difficult or even impossible to promote his wellbeing.
This ethical dilemma can be resolved through another portion of NASW
code 1.06(a) stating “protecting client interests may require termination of
the professional relationship with proper referral of the client.” In order for
the social worker to make ethical decisions the social worker can make an
appropriate referral. This allows the social worker to follow her personal


morals, while at the same time treating her client with respect and making
ethical decisions.
Are you able to support a client’s decision that deviates from your
moral code?
Social workers according to NASW code 1.02 are required to “promote
the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to
identify and clarify their goals.” This code mandates that social workers
even if they do not morally agree, must support clients in their decisions.
In most cases I believe this would not be an issue for me personally. I
believe that I have the ability to support a client without condoning their
decision. In this type of professional relationship, it is my job as the social
worker to listen and help my client to process through their options, but
ultimately it is solely their life and they have the right to make any decision
they feel appropriate for their life. While some decisions may be hard for
me to watch a client make, it would be my professional role to allow them to
make their decision and then be available to help them through any
difficulties this decision may bring about.
Are you able to meet your client on their cultural ground?
NASW code 1.05 requires social workers to understand the cultures so
that they can competently provide services to the population they are
working with. I feel that I am very well equipped to work with different
cultural groups. Living in China for three years gave me experience in


working with many different religious and ethnic groups. This experience
taught be that different is not bad nor wrong.
During my time in China I was continually learning about the culture.
The way I did this was through asking questions, reading books and through
forming friendships with locals. These methods helped me by the end of my
time in China to become fairly culturally competent within the Asian culture.
I believe that this experience will aid me in my future work as a social worker
no matter what people groups I am working with.
Can you delineate appropriate professional boundaries with clients
and maintain confidentiality?
Social workers must maintain healthy professional boundaries with
clients in order to successfully help their clientele. Boundaries are needed in
many areas. NASW code of ethics specifically addresses sexual relationships
(1.09), physical contact (1.10), and bartering for services (1.13(b)).
Physical contact can be extremely beneficial to a client, yet if done
wrong, can be very damaging. NASW code 1.10 addresses physical touch
and the need for clear boundaries to be set by the social worker. In setting
these boundaries it is necessary to consider the gender and culture of one’s
client. Caressing and cradling a client is very inappropriate while holding a
hand to comfort or a touch on the shoulder could be the encouragement that
a client needs in order to open up with the therapist.


While physical contact is not always wrong in a professional
relationship, sexual relationships are never acceptable. According to NASW
code 1.09, any form of sexual relationship with a client is unethical. It also
states that sexual relationships with client’s friends or relatives should also
be avoided to avoid damaging the therapeutic relationship. These types of
relationships have the potential of causing the social worker to cross
professional boundaries. If there are extraordinary circumstances, and a
relationship occurs, it is the social workers full responsibility to prove that no
coercion or manipulation has occurred. In addition, they must prove that
they are able to maintain the professional boundaries with their client in
spite of the sexual relationship with a close friend or family member.
When setting boundaries in a professional relationship it is important to
consider how one will accept payment for services. The NASW Code of
ethics addresses bartering in code 1.13(b). While bartering is not always
unethical, one must always decide if the bartering will cause the professional
boundaries to be crossed. Great consideration should be taken before
accepting a bartered proposition from a client and must never be initiated by
the social worker.
Part of maintaining a professional relationship is maintaining strict
confidentiality. The NASW code of ethics 1.07 addresses the importance of
keeping your clients information confidential. From the experience that I
have already had in the social work field I don’t believe I will have any issues
keeping information confidential. I also have many friends that talk to me


about their personal issues and I have never had a problem keeping this
information confidential. Therefore, I feel confident that I will not struggle
maintaining this ethical code.
Social and Political Action
Social workers are expected to take action when individuals or groups
are being exploited, dominated, or discriminated against. This expectation is
given in NASW code 6.04. As a social worker I am prepared and ready to
fight for injustices that occur in the world. This may be socially or politically.
In my experience as a foster parent, education planner and program
coordinator I had the opportunity to fight for the rights of children in the
foster care system. I also had the opportunity to work alongside these
students to have their voices heard by our state, to be the voice of change in
the system. This experience taught me the importance of not sitting by
passively but instead actively being a voice that initiates change.
Drugs, Alcohol, and Other Addictions
Within the social work profession it is not uncommon for these
professionals to become addicted to substances. After engaging in selfreflection I feel that the likelihood of this happening to me is low. My
personal morals and experiences of watching many family members lives fall
apart from addictions, have kept me from engaging in any form of substance
use. As a young adult I have had sips of alcohol, but I have never been
drunk, and have never experimented with any drugs. At this point in my life,


my employer requires a commitment of “No substance use” to be made
before being hired. Combining my personal beliefs and this commitment
together greatly lessens the chances of me acquiring a substance abuse
When social workers fall into substance abuse the NASW code 4.05(b)
addresses the guidelines for how to handle addiction professionally. The
Code explains that consultation should be sought and every effort should be
made to protect the client. This may require stepping down from one’s
position and referring clients elsewhere.
While it is the social workers responsibility to seek help independently,
often individuals do not recognize their own problem. When interacting with
my colleagues, if I suspected any form of substance abuse, according to
NASW code 2.11 I would first consult with my colleague suggesting that she
seek professional help. If she is unresponsive to this suggestion, or if I feel
that this is not enough, I would notify her supervisor of the abuse that I have
become aware of. If this is not followed through on I would report this abuse
to the NASW review board.
Ethical Resignation
When leaving a professional social work position, according to NASW
code 1.16, it is unethical to end professional relationships with clients
without notifying them and referring them to a new professional helper.
Therefore, if I was offered my dream job and was asked to start by the end of


the week, I would try to negotiate a later starting date to allow me time to
make contact with all of my current clients. If the new employer did not
accept this offer I could attempt to work both jobs until all current clients
were notified. If neither of these options were acceptable to the new
employer, to maintain ethical standard I would be forced to turn down the
new position.
Communications with clients need to remain professional at all times.
According to the NASW Code 1.12 derogatory language is never acceptable,
whether being used with clients or in communication with colleagues. Not
only is this a NASW ethical issue, it is a violation of my personal moral code.
If I was faced with colleagues that were using this type of talk I would first
remind my colleague of NASW code 1.12. If they continued to speak to
clients or about clients in the fashion I would bring this complaint to our
supervisor. If the supervisor was not able to stop this violation I would go to
the NASW and make a formal complaint.
Transparency in Practice
In social work practice it is necessary to be professionally transparent
with one’s clients. This transparency includes, according to NASW code 1.03,
a proper disclosure statement at the beginning of services describing the
expectations of the client and professional helper. It also, according to NASW


code 1.07, should include a detailed description of confidentiality and an
explanation of when and how services will end.
I believe that all of these things are vital to maintaining a professional
working relationship, therefore I do not feel that this will be a difficult ethical
standard to uphold. If I were working with an involuntary client, I would be
sure to not only inform them of confidentiality and a description of services
provided, but I would include a description of their right to not participate
and what consequences the client may face for noncompliance. This allows
transparency in our relationship and the client can independently make a
decision of what they are going to choose.
Without transparency the client may feel coerced, and harm may be
inflicted. According to NASW code 1.01, it is the social workers responsibility
to always promote the wellbeing of the client. A lack of transparency would
potentially break many of the NASW codes.
In the social work profession there comes a great responsibility to
continually maintain high moral and ethical standards. It is important to
always be aware of the culture with that one is working within. This
awareness will better enable the social worker to maintain a healthy
professional relationship with one’s client. When beginning in the social work
profession I believe it will be necessary to maintain an excellent relationship


with one’s supervisor in order to gain the skills that will be necessary to
obtain competence in the field of social work.


Barsky, A. E. (2010). Ethics and values in social work an integrated approach
for a comprehensive curriculum. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
National Association of Social Workers, (2008). Code of ethics. Washington,
DC: Author. Retrieved from website: