Informed Consent Answer and Rationale

By Heidi Tobe on November 7, 2017

Yesterday we continued our discussion on the recent revisions made to the NASW Code of Ethics, focusing this week on the topic of informed consent. This was the second of a four part blog series reviewing these changes. Did you get yesterday's practice question correct? Read the answer and rationale below to find out!



A newly licensed social worker has been meeting with a client for two months. The social worker is concerned with some patterns of disordered eating the client reported and is unsure of how to proceed. The social worker invites her supervisor who specializes in eating disorders to sit in on the next session. The client does not express any concern upon seeing another person in the room. The session is conducted and the therapist and supervisor then meet to explore a treatment plan and appropriate interventions. Having the supervisor sit in on the session can be described as:

A. Ethical, because it was in the best interest of the client to have a specialist involved in her treatment

B. Ethical, because it was recommended by the supervisor

C. Unethical, because the social worker should not be treating a population she does not have experience with

D. Unethical, because the social worker did not obtain the client’s consent to have a third party in their session

The best answer for this question is D.

  • While it may be beneficial for a specialist to be involved in the client’s treatment (A), it is unethical to do so without the client’s informed consent. Treatment options, including bringing in a specialist (or referring out to a specialist) should be discussed with the client.
  • It does not state anywhere in the question stem that the supervisor recommends this (B). Further, even if the supervisor recommended sitting in on the session, to do so without the client’s informed consent is still unethical.
  • While it may be unethical to treat a client population that the social worker is not trained to treat (C), this is not what makes the scenario presented in the question unethical. Also, while the question stem states that the social worker is unsure of how to proceed with her client who is reporting disordered eating patterns, it does not state that the social worker has no experience treating clients with eating disorders.
  • Having the supervisor sit in on the session is unethical because the social worker did not get the client’s informed consent for this to occur (D). The fact that the client “does not express any concern” with the supervisor’s presence in the room does not make this treatment decision ethical. If the social worker felt this would be a beneficial step, she should have presented this option to the client and obtained his or her informed consent.

Which answer did you choose? Does the rationale fit with your understanding of informed consent, or did you learn something new with this scenario? If you have any further questions feel free to check in with a TDC coach. We are here to support you all along the way. And if you came up with the same answer-great job! You are right on the right track to getting licensed.

Still haven’t signed up for an exam preparation program? Our structured, straightforward approach to exam prep will provide you with exactly what you need to pass your social work exam or MFT exam and nothing you don’t. You can learn more about our social work licensing exam prep or our our MFT licensing exam prep by clicking one of the links below.

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