Social Work Versus Psychology

Social Work Versus Psychology

When you consider social work versus psychology, it is worth noting that both fields stem from human services disciplines. Both psychologists and social workers aim to improve people’s lives and provide support to those in need mentally and socially. 


Social work and psychology professionals strive to understand the human mind and how it affects behavior. This understanding helps them develop tools and techniques they can use to treat mental illness, behavioral issues and ultimately empower the lives of those they work with. 


Although these fields are similar in many ways, they require different approaches when working with clients, and each role demands certain levels of education, licensing, and certification. 


Anyone considering a career in clinical psychology or social work must consider factors like educational requirements, responsibilities, and the occupational outlook. 


In this article, you’ll learn more about social work versus psychology, how the roles differ, what each profession looks like in the working world, and what you can expect from these fields in the future. 


Social Work vs. Psychology: Role Responsibilities


Psychologists study the human mind to understand how it operates and influences a person’s behavior. Clinical psychologists usually work with a medical team to help treat patients dealing with mental health disorders. Through their knowledge and understanding of mental conditions and how they affect individuals, they can implement techniques that shift a person’s mental state. 


Psychologists work in many different settings, including mental health facilities, hospitals, substance abuse centers, correctional facilities, and schools. 


The profession can also lead them to work in organizational settings and academia. Psychologists who have a Ph.D., licensure, and adequate experience can set up a private practice and treat patients from an office setting. 

Psychology Specializations


For those who want to work outside of clinical psychology, the field offers opportunities to focus on research and studying specific brain functions and behaviors. Specializations include:


  • Cognitive Psychology: focuses on how people understand and process information by studying an individual’s ability to learn, communicate, and think.
  • Developmental Psychology: focuses on how people’s minds progress as they age and studying how outside factors influence human development. 
  • Social Psychology: focuses on understanding how and why people influence one another by examining social interactions and how they affect a person’s thoughts and emotions. 


Psychologists’ schedules vary depending on where they conduct business. Those who work in businesses, schools, or governments typically hold full-time positions and work during regular business hours. 


Psychologists who own a private practice or work in healthcare have more flexible schedules. They may hold irregular hours or work on weekends in order to tend to clients or address emergencies. 

Social Work Paths


Social workers must draw from a variety of skill sets, like psychology and counseling, to help them work with and support individuals and communities. As champions for human rights, social workers aim to augment the well-being of oppressed, impoverished, and marginalized people. 


Many institutions and human service agencies hire social workers, including schools, hospitals, and correctional facilities. Each of these settings presents social workers with individuals who have unique needs, so they must tailor their strategies and treatments to accommodate each case.  


For example, working with a domestic abuse victim will look different than working with an aging individual facing a disease. In both cases, the social worker will assess the client’s needs and form an action plan. Treatments may consist of identifying the source of the problem, finding solutions, strengthening coping skills, stress management, and counseling.    


A social worker’s schedule is flexible and ever-changing. Depending on where one works and his or her role, the hours and days may alter each month. Social workers are typically required to travel to homes, schools, hospitals, and care facilities. 


Social Work vs. Psychology: Education and Licensure


Psychologists must receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology, followed by a Ph.D. in psychology. Doctoral degrees may include internships to allow students to gain hands-on experience in the field. 


Counseling and clinical roles usually require internship experience, as well as a year or two of supervised professional experience. Candidates must also pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology


Psychologists must also be licensed in the state where they work. Licensing laws vary between states due to the wide range of psychological roles. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards provides a list of state requirements and other useful information regarding licensing and credentials.  


If a psychologist plans to work in a school, hospital, or clinic, they may need special certification. The American Board of Professional Psychology lists specialty certifications and the positions that may require them. 


Social workers must earn a bachelor’s degree in social work. Social work internships and certifications can help graduates accelerate in their career. But upper-level degrees, like a Master of Social Work, can help social workers secure more advanced positions. 


If a social worker completes a master’s degree and has two years of professional practice, they can take the Licensed Clinical Social Worker exam. Passing this test opens up opportunities to provide therapy to small groups and individuals. 


Clinical social workers must also have a license to practice in their chosen state. Licensing requirements and other information regarding specific regulatory boards are located on the Association of Social Work Boards website. 


Social Work vs. Psychology: Outlook and Salary


Psychologists have opportunities to work in hospitals (government, state, local, and private), outpatient healthcare facilities, elementary and high schools, or they may open a private practice. The places likely to offer the most career opportunities include schools, retirement facilities, and settings that require help in rehabilitation psychology.


As of May 2019, the median annual wage for a psychologist was $80,370. Employment is expected to increase by three percent from 2019-2029.  


Social workers have opportunities to work with individuals, families, and communities. You can find them in schools, mental health centers, healthcare facilities, and places that offer substance abuse counseling. 


As of May 2019, the median annual wage for a social worker was $50,470. Employment is expected to grow by 13 percent from 2019-2029. 


In Conclusion


When considering a role as a social worker or psychologist, there are several things to consider and keep in mind. One of the most important factors is the responsibilities assigned to each profession. 


If you are trying to decide between the two, it’s imperative to understand what’s required of those who work in these roles and which one you feel more interested in and better suited for. 


Social workers focus on helping people cope with a variety of unfortunate life situations, including substance abuse, financial problems, and human rights issues. They work with children, adults, families, and communities within a variety of settings. Ideally, social workers need a master’s degree, professional experience, and a state license. 


Psychologists focus on how the brain functions and processes information. They study behavior, emotions, and how the mind affects people’s lives. Psychologists work with individuals and groups within schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, and private practices. These professionals usually have a Ph.D. in psychology and a state license. 


Both fields are projected to grow over the next ten years. Psychology careers are predicted to increase at a steady rate, while roles in social work will see a rapid growth between now and 2029.

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