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What Is the Difference Between a Social Worker & a Psychologist?

Social workers and psychologists both work with people on their issues, but the type of issues they deal with are different. This article covers the educational requirements, job responsibilities, and job outlook for these two careers.

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Comparing Social Workers to Psychologists

Social workers and psychologists both help people improve their well-being, but they focus on addressing different types problems and have different education requirements. The main differences and similarities are outlined below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Social Worker Bachelor's degree $46,890 12%
Psychologist Doctoral Degree $75,230 19%

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Social Workers vs. Psychologists

Social workers and psychologists work directly with people who have trouble coping or handling life events or other factors that negatively impact their lives. While both careers involve helping others, a social worker focuses on assisting people with everyday problems, while a psychologist deals with more complex mental health problems. Psychologists focus on how various environmental and situational factors affect people's mental and emotional health. Clinical social workers, however, also work with people experiencing mental health or emotional issues.

Social Worker

As a social worker, you will specialize in working with clients and communities in need of assistance. Social workers serve as an ongoing support resource for clients experiencing major upheaval in their lives, such as divorce, custody issues, or unemployment. You will do so by determining clients' current situations and identifying what services they may need, such as food stamps or employment placement services. Social workers regularly meet with their clients to ensure they are making progress. As a social worker, you may work in a variety of environments, such as healthcare facilities, government agencies, or community support agencies. This career requires at least a bachelor's degree in social work and state licensure.

Job responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Dealing with crises like mental health emergencies or child neglect and abuse allegations
  • Acting as an advocate for their clients
  • Offering psychotherapy services when needed
  • Working with a wide range of clients, including those struggling with addiction, children and families, and those with disabilities

Psychologist

A psychologist analyzes emotional, mental, and social elements through observation and interpretation, with the goal of better understanding how patients interact with others and their surroundings. This analysis is done by performing behavior and brain capability experiments, meeting with patients and discussing their lives to diagnose what issues they are experiencing, and developing treatment plans for patients. Psychologists can be self-employed or work for educational institutions or government organizations. While some careers only require a master's degree, most in the field complete a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), with the option to pursue certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology. Most states require all psychologists to be licensed.

Job responsibilities of a psychologist include:

  • Diagnosing a variety of emotional, behavioral, and psychological disorders through their knowledge and experience
  • Analyzing the correlation between events or behavior patterns and utilizing it to better understand patients
  • Performing research to test their hypotheses and publishing the results in scholarly journals
  • Giving patients intelligence or personality tests and interpreting the results

Related Careers

If you would like to become a social worker, consider a job as a health educator, since both careers involve working with clients to improve their well-being. Those interested in a position as a psychologist may be interested in a job as a marriage or family therapist, as both jobs involve helping patients solve their issues.

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