Heather Starkweather


January 17, 2022

Ordinance No. 31-21 Contradicts the NASW Code of Ethics

- Transcript -

Engaging in the field of social work since graduating with a BSW in 1992 has been a privilege. Being employed in various settings (ranging from nursing homes to schools as well as a residential ministry) has been a remarkable journey. I have worked with clients of many populations, from children to seniors and all ages in between. Counseling people who struggle with self-harm, suicidal ideation, addictions, depression, anxiety, and sexual struggles of all types has been informative. It has taught me amazing life lessons, especially to value and care about people experiencing difficulty and hardship. Participating in continuing education and attending lectures regarding counseling all over the country has also helped me learn how to assist people when they are suffering. Additionally, it has been rewarding to have opportunities to speak at various counseling conferences and colleges. I have also had opportunities to train staff and interns at Vision of Hope Residential Ministry.

I love social work! I have always observed the role of social work as a sacrificial service to all types of hurting people. It is a field that communicates a desire to help people no matter what they are struggling with. Social Work is dedicated to social justice and self-determination as well as meeting daily living needs. However, I see the field and our culture at large contradicting important, long held values and ethics and it concerns me greatly.

As licensed social worker by the State of Indiana, I am adamantly opposed to Ordinance No. 31-21 (amended) titled, “An ordinance prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy and discouraging its use by licensed professionals”. The ordinance states, “The City of West Lafayette, Indiana has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth…” I am grateful to know the protection of minors is their interest, as that is my interest as well. However, the ordinance contradicts the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) Code of Ethics in several disturbing ways.

The ordinance ignores informed consent. Informed consent is an essential component of counseling. It gives a client clear indication of what services the counselor is providing, philosophical viewpoint, and credentials. These facts are often discernable in the title of the counseling center or credentials, such as: Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry; Jane Doe, MSW; or Amy Smith, LCSW. These titles and descriptions inform the community about counseling services before the client even contacts the provider. Clearly, individuals will seek the type of counseling philosophy they deem as beneficial for their need. If they are unclear about the service, they can easily ask for clarification. Social workers use “clear and understandable language to inform clients of the purpose of the service” and “provide clients with an opportunity to ask questions.” According to The Center for Ethical Practice, “Clients have the freedom to choose whether to enter into or remain in a counseling relationship and need adequate information about the counseling process and the counselor. Counselors have an obligation to review in writing and verbally with clients the rights and responsibilities of both counselors and clients.” Clients have the FREEDOM to choose licensed or non-licensed counselors for counseling services and are under no obligation to seek services from those with opposing views regarding sexual orientation. In addition, clients are actually encouraged to ask any question regarding sexual orientation, or any other topic, in regard to the counseling services being provided.

It seems very clear to me that there is already a solution in place to guard all clients from being exposed to types of counseling that are contrary to their personal convictions and beliefs. If a person freely chooses to participate in counseling because they are not comfortable pursuing a certain type of lifestyle, that right should NEVER be taken away. If they want to stop binge shopping or stress eating, they may ask a counselor during their first session if this is a struggle they can address in counseling. If the counselor is not able to help them, for professional or personal reasons, the counselor would state their limitation and refer them elsewhere. However, if the counselor is fully capable of working with this person and can support and encourage their endeavor to address any lifestyle concern, it will be disclosed between the two. This way, communication is provided and very clearly agreed upon by both the client and the counselor verbally and in writing. This is a protection and a safeguard that provides a solution for clients who do not want to receive counsel from counselors who are opposed to their lifestyle choices. Therefore, there is no need for Ordinance No. 31-21 because these protections already exist.

The ordinance tramples on a client’s right to self-determination. The NASW Code of Ethics states, “Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in the efforts to identify and clarify their goals.” The ordinance fails to affirm the CHOICE and the RIGHT of a client to seek help when the client is troubled or burdened by their sexual desires and is desperate to find a counselor willing to help them. Especially disturbing is the failure to define conversion therapy as voluntary or involuntary in the ordinance. “’Conversion therapy’ is defined as any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” Anyone who VOLUNTARILY seeks counsel regarding their sexual orientation should never be prohibited from this act of self-determination.

This ordinance is unethical and directly instructs social workers to devalue the client’s right to self-determination. Self-determination ensures the client may seek a faith-based counselor who is dedicated to counsel them from God’s Word regarding the topic of sexuality if they so choose. If they do not want a faith-based counselor and do not want to receive counsel from this perspective, they would be referred to a counselor who would respect those wishes.

The standing right to self-determination is another reason why it is vital for all social workers and counselors to vote against Ordinance No. 31-21. Why would anyone want to take away individual rights to self-determination of adults or minors? This is a clear ethical violation! People have a right to pursue the counsel they desire without discrimination against religious freedom. No governmental authority has the right to limit the rights of clients to receive counsel from an unlicensed counselor to pursue self-determination regarding their convictions of sexuality.

The ordinance clearly inhibits licensed social workers to promote the first ethical responsibility listed in the NASW Code of Ethics, “Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients.” I have worked in both the faith-based field and non-faith-based field of social work. In the non-faith-based field of social work, if a client requests faith-based or religious services it MUST be provided. If a child is at school and requests a social worker to pray with them, that social worker is required to find someone to pray with them. If a social worker is at a hospital and that patient requests someone to read scripture to them, that social worker is ethically required to provide it. If a social worker is working for CPS and a parent requests faith-based counseling services, the social worker is required to refer them to faith-based counseling services. It is unethical and in direct violation of the NASW code of ethics for a social worker to refuse any services that promote the client’s wellbeing. It is never in the wellbeing of clients to prohibit them to work through their sexual identity from a licensed or unlicensed counselor if this is the desire of the client.

Heather Starkweather


licensed social worker and faith-based counselor

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