Social Work vs Psychology vs Sociology

Social work, psychology and sociology are all related fields that deal with human relationships and human problems and how they all relate to their environments. However, the career paths of the three are quite different and require different types of education.


Sociologists specialize in the study of human society and social behavior, and engage in research, examination of large and small groups of people, and also look at entire cultures and institutions as well.

Sociologists do detailed research projects and frequently use statistical analysis and other methods from social sciences. Some of the tools they use include interviews, surveys and observations in the field. Their major objects of study are individuals’ lives and groups in the context of bigger social events and forces, as well as larger institutional economic and political forces.

Religion, politics and culture also are very important in their research. Sociologists frequently work closely with leaders and policy makers on these problems and themes in the role of consultant.

Sociologists also work in research organizations,, government agencies and consulting organizations. Most sociologists have a Ph.D., but those with a master’s degree also can find work in this field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be little change in job demand for sociologists by 2024. Competition for positions in sociology with a Ph.D. is strong, so if you are interested in social policy and its effects on society, you also may want to consider the fields of social work and psychology.

For people with a bachelor’s or master’s in sociology, you may also find work in the field in urban planning, childcare, law enforcement, criminal justice, case management, recreation and youth services.

Social Work

Social work is related to sociology but it is a much  more hands-on field, where sociology is much more theoretical and classroom based. Most social workers are involved in direct service. That is, they help people to solve their daily problems. Some of their daily tasks include:

  • Assessing the needs of the client, as well as their strengths, weaknesses and support networks
  • Help clients to deal with changes in their lives – divorce, unemployment and illness.
  • Refer clients to important community resources, such as childcare, health care, food stamps and welfare assistance.
  • Deal with crisis situations including child abuse.
  • Follow up with clients to see if their situations are better

One of the best paid social workers with the most responsibility is the clinical social worker. This is a social worker who holds at least a master’s degree in social work. They provide therapy to individuals, groups and families. In fact, clinical and healthcare social workers are the largest providers of mental health services in the US.

Clinical social workers are qualified to develop complex treatment plans with doctors, clients and various other healthcare professionals. They can also adjust the treatment plan as needed. You also may provide mental healthcare services to assist children to deal with changes in their lives.

Many social workers are in private practice, but many also work for social service agencies, hospitals and other medical providers.

The field of social work is poised to grow nicely by 2024, and the field of clinical social work should see a 19% increase in job demand by 2024.

To become a clinical social worker, you must graduate from a master’s degree program in social work and then seek licensure through the Association of Social Work Boards.

Social work and psychology, detailed below, are quite similar, but there are key differences. A social worker can provide mental health care, but that care is given in the context of other social services. A clinical social worker typically can refer the client to many social services in addition to providing mental health care.


Psychologists also have a major opportunity to help people as they study the cognitive, emotional and social processes of behavior, and help people to work through and solve the problems of their lives.

Psychologists strive to understand and explain the thoughts, emotions and behavior of their clients. They will use various techniques including observations, assessments and experimentation to come up with theories about why people act as they do.

There are many types of psychologist, but the most common are:

  • Clinical psychologist: They assess, diagnose and treat many mental, emotional and behavioral problems. Clinical psychologist spend their time helping people deal with many personal problems, and they use many techniques to do so. They often interview patients, provide diagnostic tests, and provide psychotherapy to groups, individuals and families. They also may come up with behavior modification programs to help their patients deal with their biggest problems. A clinical psychologist is often working with a client with an identifiable mental illness.
  • Counseling psychologist: These psychologists help counsel patients also to deal with and understand problems. They most often help their patients to deal with relationship problems at home, at work or in the community. They also work with the patient to help them determine what their strengths are and the resources they have available to help them manage problems.
  • Forensic psychologist: This is a different form of psychology where the psychologist uses psychological principles to help lawyers and judges understand the psychological aspects of criminal cases. They may help to narrow a suspect list or to help the stakeholders in a case to understand the motivations of the suspect or criminal.
  • Industrial organizational psychologist: This professional applies psychological principles to the workplace to solve problems and to boost the quality of life for workers within the organization. Their focus is largely on improving worker and workplace productivity. They also can work with upper management to better screen and train employees to work better with each other. This can be especially important when different departments in an organization must work together, such as the marketing and engineering departments.

To become a psychologist, you must hold at least a master’s degree in psychology. To practice independently, you must earn your doctoral degree in psychology. You must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

The job demand for psychologists is also on the upswing, with a 19% increase anticipated by 2024.