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NASW sends letter to “Two and a Half Men” over Social Work Role

Social worker Ms. McMartin (actress Maggie Martin) enters a sexual relationship with Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) on Two and Half Men. Photo courtesy of CBS.

Social worker Ms. McMartin (actress Maggie Lawson) enters a sexual relationship with Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) on Two and Half Men. Photo courtesy of CBS.

The CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” is in its 12th and final season. Recent episodes have featured an adoption social worker named Ms. McMartin (actress Maggie Lawson) who is helping Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher) adopt a foster child.

However, NASW is concerned over how this character portrays the social work profession and today sent this letter to “Two and Half Men” Production Coordinator Katie Jones:

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest professional social work organization in the world with 130,000 members.

We congratulate “Two and a Half Men” for completing 12 successful seasons and for bringing its sometimes edgy style of humor to millions of Americans since 2003.

NASW also commends your program for addressing the issue of foster children and adoption in recent episodes. NASW and the social work profession are heavily involved in improving the lives of foster children and building families through adoption.

However, NASW is concerned by a recent storyline featuring adoption social worker, Ms. McMartin (actress Maggie Lawson). Social workers in the United States follow the NASW Code of Ethics which serves as a guide to the everyday conduct of social workers. The public can also hold social workers accountable for not following the profession’s Code of Ethics.

The Ms. McMartin character violates the NASW Code of Ethics by having a sexual relationship with Alan Harper (Jon Cryer). In addition, she violates the Code’s direction that social workers not enter into any situation that presents a conflict of interest.

As an association that represents the social work profession, we are concerned these recent “Two and a Half Men” episodes may harm the public view of members of a profession that promotes high ethical standards as it works hard each day, often against great odds, to protect children from abuse and neglect and help clients overcome life’s challenges.

We look forward to discussing ways we can address this issue possibly through a public statement from the show or public service announcement.

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  1. Thank you to the NASW for taking the opportunity to confront this issue. Social work and social workers often bear the brunt of such mindless and careless stereotypes. That said, who even watches that show anymore? Honestly when I first saw the heading, my immediate thought was, “that show is still on?”

  2. Well done. I am glad to see NASW holding the show accountable.

  3. Thank you for your prompt response to this! The letter to the show embodies precisely my concerns. I am very pleased to see National’s action on this and advocacy for our profession!

  4. Thank you NASW for educating mainstream TV producers. I hope that this brings a positive outcome. Patricia Parker, LCSW
    Pensacola, FL

  5. Thank you, NASW, for advocating on behalf of social workers. I saw the episode to which you refer and was horrified that my profession was portrayed in this manner. I want to add my two cents also as a former child welfare worker. It is NEVER, NEVER okay to cross this professional boundary with anyone involved in the care of a child. To enter into an elicit affair with a married person is very unethical and wrong, violating many standards of behavior but to make matters worse, she had a sexual relationship with a potential adoptive parent!!!! Talk about a conflict of interest!!! I agree with you that Two and a Half Men as well as its network should issue an apology for an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the social work profession and social workers as individuals.

  6. The profession of social has always been a vulnerable and thus one of the toughest ones as well. It has always strived for its due recognition and respect. But such developments have already eroded them in the public eye. The media in general and the film-making people in particularly also need to touch the subjects carefully and responsibly.

  7. As a Social Worker and Member..Thank you!

  8. Kudos to NASW for sending this letter. The ending of this show brought up so many important social issues. Unfortunately, it’s a ‘hot mess’ and social workers deserve better PR.

  9. I appreciate the attention that NASW has given this issue. Thank you!! Let’s make sure our standards are known. Sincerely, Kim Peek, LCSW,

  10. Thank you, NASW!

  11. I really appreciate our professional organization addressing issues that are so relevant and educational to the public.

  12. I am pleased that NASW took action so fast to let people know this is NOT how social workers do their jobs. It is NEVER alright to have sex with a client EVER. The public already has a incorrect view of what a social does and this show just made it worse. I think that two and a half men should correct this and apologize.

  13. As a recent graduate with a B.S.W., I agree with the above posts. Thanks NASW!!!

  14. In last night’s show Ms. McMartin moves on to “bed” Walden’s character after Allen dump’s her……
    So now the character is bedding both adoptive parents……..

  15. Is this character actually a social worker? Or is this another example of the media calling all human service workers social workers and misleading the public into thinking the term social worker” is not a protected term, which requires a degree. it also perpetuates the misconception that social workers only do casework and are not psychotherapistso.

  16. Get a grip people. It’s just a t.v. show. Nobody with even a little bit of common sense would believe anything that comes from this show

  17. I have been licensed as a clinical social worker over thirty years and totally agree with NASW’s position on the program’s violation of the NASW Code of Ethics. While the show does highlight an important issue related to the needs of children in foster care and those who suffer from abuse and neglect, the sexual relationship promoted among client and worker is highly inappropriate and sends a negative message to the general public about social workers and this highly respected profession. Unfortunately, some people, especially our youth, will view the show and have the wrong impression of how social workers perform their duties. Also, as a graduate level professor, I stress to students the importance of strict adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics and engaging in sexual relationships with clients is a major violation of ethics that could result in loss of one’s license. I have been a fan of the show since its inception. I especially loved Charlie Sheen so my comments are sent with high respect for the show. It would be great if a way can be found to correct this grave error. I applaud NASW for speaking out on this important issue.

  18. Thank you NASW. Social Work is a true profession and it’s important that things inappropriate perspectives are challenged. It’s difficult enough to gain respect when anyone can call themselves a social worker. Add to that the negative public perception of baby snatchers, etc. Social workers are not one thing, we are many things. We do case management, counseling, referral, we are advocates, liasons, educators, the list goes on. It’s just a show as someone said, but it’s a show that can negatively impact our already difficult public image, and that’s worth noting. I for one take the code of ethics seriously, and the public should at least be aware.

  19. The media certainly does have a big role to play in the impressions of certain professions, demographic groups and geographic locations. It is not “just a T.V. show” because as the NASW stated it is watched by “millions of Americans”. To trivialize the portrayal is also to trivialize the work that actual social workers do on a daily basis. It is also not the first time that social workers have been portrayed in a bad light so we absolutely do not need anyone to add fuel to the fire.

    I commend the NASW for not only addressing the issue but requesting a reply from the network to hold them to a higher standard.

    Thank you for all you do!

  20. As a professional social worker for 43 years, I completely agree with the concerns raised by NASW regarding the social worker character entering into a sexual relationship with a client. I have served on the Michigan Chapter ethics committee review board for several years, and have levied sanctions against social workers who have violated the NASW Code of Ethics. In addition, our state social work licensing board reviews such cases, which may result in the termination of the social worker’s license to practice. The profession is vigilant in policing the ethical practice of its members. I hope that the script writers will deal with the consequences of this unethical behavior in the final episodes of the series.

  21. Did NASW ever get a response from the production coordinator, Katie Jones?

  22. Ashley:

    No we did not get a response, probably because the programs had already been filmed. However, we will continue to respond to cases such as these.

    Greg Wright
    Public Relations Manager

  23. Well done NASW! It’s important that you were on top of this so quickly. I am concerned that the only people likely to know about your letter are the show’s producers and NASW members. Informing our members is preaching to the choir — WE certainly don’t need to be convinced of the inappropriateness of the show’s representation of our profession. The producers of the show may respond but probably will suppress any disbursement of the issue to the public.
    The challenge is how to hold people such as the producers accountable before the public.

  24. Excellent!! Thank you!!!!

  25. That letter was absolutely not necessary. I would be curious to know if any other professional bodies have reacted in such a way i.e. physicians, nurses, lawyers, etc when their members have been portrayed in less than favorable ways on television or film. Why not concentrate that time and effort on advocating for more meaningful advances to the profession? Also, was the actor registered with the NSAW?

  26. Social Workers are certainly overly sensitive.

  27. Now NASW needs to hold itself up to the standards of their own Code of Ethics. At this point they are failing.

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