Many professionals want to work in professions where they can help other people deal with challenges in their lives, as well as earn a good living for themselves. These workers often want to feel a sense of purpose and mission in bettering the lives of other people, as well as be compensated well for their work.
Two fields that are often considered are social work and psychology. What are these fields about, what are the similarities and differences, and what types jobs and salaries can you get? Keep reading to learn more.
What Is Social Work?
Social work is above all a helping profession whose primary objective is to improve the wellbeing of society, especially for the most vulnerable among us.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of social work is the emphasis of the person in his environment model, and also a focus on social justice. So, a social worker is not just looking at the inner struggles of the client, as might happen in psychology. The social worker also works with clients to look at their family history, work environment, community, and structures and social policies to help them to find the best ways to handle challenges.
Social work also is about strengths. That is, social workers help people to determine what their skills and strengths are, and how they can be applied to problems and challenges.
What Is Psychology?
Psychology is a science focused on the mind and behavior. Professionals trained in psychology have the training and clinical skills to help people to more effectively deal with their life problems and mental health issues.
Psychologists use a variety of evidence-based treatments to help their patients to improve their lives. In psychology, the most common treatment is therapy, also referred to as psychotherapy. There are many sorts of therapy, but the psychologist chooses the one that will best address the patient’s issue, and also fits the preferences and characteristics of the individual.
Some of the most common therapy types are behavioral, cognitive, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, and interpersonal.
Clinical Social Work vs. Clinical Psychology
A good way to decide if social work or psychology is for you is to look at specific jobs in each field that are closely related: clinical social worker and clinical psychologist.
Clinical Social Worker
A clinical social worker possess a master’s degree in social work, and are licensed to treat and diagnose mental, behavioral and emotional problems. They also are qualified to offer mental health therapy to couples, groups and families, with a focus on identifying community resources and support services to help people through their problems. Clinical social workers often help their clients to work through their issues by providing access to employment and housing help. They may also provide mental healthcare to families and children who are dealing with major changes in their lives.
Clinical social workers can work in mental health clinics, hospitals, substance abuse centers and in private practice.
Typical duties of a clinical social worker are:
- Assess the needs of the client, as well as strengths and weaknesses
- Help the client to deal with major changes in their lives, such as divorce or unemployment
- Respond to major crisis situations, such as child abuse or domestic violence
- Evaluate social services that are provided to ensure they are helping
Perhaps the most significant difference between the social worker and the psychologist is that social workers help their clients with a broad variety of personal, psychological and health issues. A clinical social worker is essentially a guide to help the client to get their life on track as they deal with many different challenging situations. As part of the process, they will connect clients with social services and also provide counseling.
A clinical social worker must have a Master of Social Work, which takes two or three years to earn. They also must successfully complete at least two years of clinical work, and then may apply to take their clinical social work exam.
A clinical psychologist also is qualified to diagnose and treat mental, health and behavioral problems in their patients. Their patients include couples, individuals, families and groups.
However, clinical psychologists are more focused upon psychological research, theories and scientific methods such as statistics and assessment. This field is an integration of theory, science and practice. They also have more training in the performance of psychological testing. Clinical psychologists work in similar environments as clinical social workers, but a large percentage are self employed.
Clinical psychologists typically perform the following work:
- Collect information about human behavior through interview, surveys, and observations
- Identify emotional, behavioral, psychological and organizational issues
- Research and pinpoint emotional and behavioral problems
- Give diagnostic tests to patients to determine strengths, weaknesses and psychological issues that need addressing
Clinical psychologists often will work with other healthcare professionals to determine the best treatment options for patients. This is especially common when it comes to providing prescription medications. At this time, only IL, LA and NM allow clinical psychologists to prescribed medication. So, if a client needs drug therapy in most states, the psychologist will partner with a physician or psychiatrist as needed to get them the help they need.
Clinical psychologists must have at least a master’s degree in psychology, and are required to have a Ph.D. to practice on their own. Clinical psychologists also must have at least a year and possibly two of supervised clinical work. Also required is licensure for the state in which they intend to practice.
Generally, the psychology field has a higher rate of pay than social work, but it will depend upon the job and where you work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median wage for psychologists in 2016 was $75,200. The top 10% earned more than $120,000 per year. Those professionals typically hold a doctoral degree and are either counseling or clinical psychologists in private practice.
Clinical and counseling psychologists may expect strong job growth by 2024, with 20% more jobs expected across the country.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median annual wage for social workers in 2016 was $46,890, and the top 10% earned $78,600. The highest paid social workers usually are clinical or healthcare social workers with a master’s of doctoral degree in social work.
Social workers in the clinical and healthcare fields will have ample job opportunities in the near future, with 19% job growth in those specialties.
The psychology and social work fields offer excellent, rewarding job opportunities for professionals who want to help others to improve their lives. Psychology is focused upon helping the individual with internal struggles and personal challenges with science and therapy, while social workers also provide therapy, but focus more on the broader context of life which led to those problems manifesting.
Those who want to work more strictly in psychology and counseling to help patients may prefer working as a psychologist. And those who are more interested in social justice and the wider context of personal problems and mental health disorders may prefer social work.
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- Clinical Social Work Vs. Clinical Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://online.cua.edu/resource/social-work/clinical-social-work-vs-clinical-psychology
- Social Workers. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
- Psychologists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm