I am writing to correct any false impression your readers may have of the social work profession after reading the commentary by Jerry Kabat (Sept. 21, 2013). The writer expressed concern that free-speech rights of mental health counselors would be suppressed by the gay rights movement.
Free-speech rights cover public speech, and that would certainly include social workers who express opinions in public places such as our local paper. However, it is the social work code of ethics rather than personal opinions that guides social work practice. All social workers, including those who provide mental health counseling services, are bound to follow this code of ethics. This includes ethics related to discrimination:
“Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national
origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.” (The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, 2008, NASW Press.)
The first amendment is especially relevant for the faith-based community. Social work professionals can and are indeed encouraged to refer clients to a priest, minister, rabbi, imam or other spiritual counselor for counseling on matters of faith.
Dr. Catherine Lawrence
Lawrence is a professor of social work at the University at Albany.