Counseling vs Social Work Differences and Similarities

If you are interested in working with people who have mental and psychological issues, as well as emotional problems and addictions, the odds are that you will be looking at a career in social work or counseling. There is a good deal of overlap with counseling vs. social work, and many professionals go back and forth between the two professions before making a decision.

If you want to work with people in the above described way, you will need to earn a master’s degree. The only question is if it will be in social work or counseling.

Both social work and counseling have a good job outlook: Clinical social worker employment will grow by 19% by 2024, and psychologists and counselors will see 19% job growth as well in the same time period.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

A MSW degree prepares you for a leadership position in caring and advocating for clients that include individuals, families and whole communities.

The MSW is what you need to become a licensed, clinical social worker, and you will perform clinical assessments, strive to obtain entitlements for patients, provide community resources and education, provide clinical counseling and manage a large caseload of social work cases.

A clinical social worker also will diagnose and treat many mental, behaviorial and emotional issues. They will provide techniques and strategies for patients to change their behavior or deal with difficult situations. Clinical social workers develop plans of treatment for the client with other healthcare professionals.

Many clinical social workers are able to work in private practice.

One of the biggest differences between social work and counseling is that a social worker is more tied into the local community and the resources that are available. Many social workers work as a part of a government agency or an organization closely tied with the local government. Social workers are able to provide their clients with tools and resources available at the local government level for people in their situation.

A counselor generally does not have access to those types of community resources. A counselor is focused on helping a person or family with a specific problem, while a social worker offers a wider range of community services.

A good example of the difference between a social worker and a counselor: Let’s say there is a family who has a member who has terminal cancer. The counselor would focus on helping the family deal with their emotions about this situation. A a social worker would also provide therapy to deal with the situation, but would have resources available to help.

The social worker may refer that family to hospice care, and work with the caregiver’s employer to get more time away from work so that the family can deal with the problem. Social workers generally have a more in depth understanding of the systems and community resources that are available to clients.

How to Become a Clinical Social Worker

As noted above, you need to earn your MSW degree with a focus on clinical social work. As part of your program, you will need to have supervised clinical experience, and then you can sit for your national clinical social worker exam, which is administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.

Are you interested in becoming a clinical social worker? Earning your MSW has never been easier; there are many strong online MSW degree programs that can get you your social work degree in as little as two years.

One degree that you should consider is the online MSW program at Boston University. This is ranked as the 12th best graduate school in social work by US News and World Report.

In this two year program, you will study four frameworks for assessment and intervention with clients:

  • Cognitive
  • Behavioral
  • Psychodynamic
  • Family systems

This program focuses on a strengths-based perspective and the great need for client confidentiality, client empowerment, and self-determination in making decisions for themselves.

This program is taught by internationally and nationally recognized social work experts. If you have a social work background with a bachelor’s degree in social work, you may qualify for Advanced Standing and graduate in as few as six semesters.

Classes in this MSW program are:

  • Introduction to Clinical Social Work Practice
  • Clinical Practice with Individuals; Groups; and Families
  • Family Therapy
  • Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment
  • Clinical Practice With Adult Trauma
  • Clinical Practice with Older Adults

This program has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which is the premier accreditation body for social work degree programs in the US.

Master’s of Counseling

With a master’s in counseling or psychology, you will be qualified to help patients deal with and understand their problems. This includes understanding issues in their home environment, at work and in their community. Through in depth counseling, they will work with patients to determine their strengths and resources to manage their problems.

Counselors use many advanced techniques to help their clients overcome their problems. Many of them may use cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help clients to understand harmful behavior patterns, thoughts and beliefs. Counselors also can use this type of therapy to teach their clients to get rid of any negative behaviors and supplant them with better and more positive ones.

As noted earlier, the focus with a master’s in counseling degree is to provide therapy to the individuals and family members who are having problems. A social worker will provide more connections to outside community resources for that family. Either approach works well; it simply depends upon which type of daily work appeals to you more.

How to Become a Counselor

After you graduate with your master’s degree in counseling, you must have at least 2000 hours of supervised clinical experience, which is also called an internship or residency. You also must pass a state certification examination for the state in which you intend to practice. That exam is administered through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

If you are interested in becoming a counselor and earning a master’s degree, there are many excellent online master’s in counseling programs that are worth your consideration.

One is the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling from Liberty University. This is a two year online program that has been raked #5  for Best Online Counseling and Human Services Programs, according to SuperScholar.

This program is a 60 credit hour graduate degree course that will prepare you to be licensed as a professional counselor.

Courses include:

  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Theories of Counseling
  • Integration and Spirituality and Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Psychopathology and Counseling
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Assessment Techniques in Counseling
  • Career Development and Counseling

This program has been accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which is the accreditation agency that you should look for with online counseling degree programs.

Both counseling and social work are excellent career paths where you can help people, and they both have excellent long term career possibilities in terms of job availability and salary. Study the differences between the degrees and careers that we highlight here so you can make an informed decision.