Difference Between Psychiatrist & Social Worker

Psychiatrists and social workers can play an important role in helping the people they see improve their lives. The scope of their abilities differ, since psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors. Continue reading to compare these careers further.

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Comparing Psychiatrists to Social Workers

Psychiatrists and social workers provide services that are intended to help people. Social workers may counsel people with problems or provide them with help locating practical assistance, while psychiatrists focus primarily on treating patients with mental health problems. Psychiatrists are also medical doctors, and are required to have more training than social workers.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Psychiatrist Doctoral Degree $245,673 15%
Social Worker Bachelor's or Master's Degree $46,890 12%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Psychiatrists vs. Social Workers

Psychiatrists and social workers meet with people and talk to them about their issues. Their basic objective is to identify the person's problem and help them solve it. Social workers may do this by helping people find assistance for practical matters or they may provide counseling to people dealing with issues in their life. Psychiatrists work with people who have mental health conditions that can be diagnosed. They are qualified to order tests or prescribe medication for patients. Both psychiatrists and social workers need to keep records of their appointments with patients.


A psychiatrist is a doctor who specializes in treating psychiatric issues. Like all medical doctors, psychiatrists must have a medical degree and complete residency and internship requirements in their specialization. They must also have a license to practice. Psychiatrists may work in mental health facilities, medical offices or hospitals. Since they spend a lot of time talking to their patients they need good communication skills and the ability to listen.

Job responsibilities of a psychiatrist include:

  • Diagnosing patients with mental health issues
  • Creating a treatment plan for patients
  • Prescribing medication
  • Meeting with patients to discuss their issues and progress
  • Assessing the effectiveness of the treatment
  • Ordering medical tests when necessary

Social Worker

Social workers can specialize in a number of different areas, and their specific classifications include healthcare social workers and clinical social workers. The social worker's role is to provide help to people who are having personal issues, such as illness or family problems. Clinical social workers may also diagnose patients. A bachelor's degree is required for most social worker careers, but those who opt to work as clinical social workers are required to have a master's degree and a license. Social workers may work in number of different settings, including clinics, schools and hospitals.

Job responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Meeting with clients
  • Discussing issues client is experiencing
  • Helping clients locate practical assistance when possible, such as childcare
  • Monitoring client's progress
  • Identifying ways to improve services for clients
  • Helping clients identify strategies to cope with their issues

Related Careers

Another career option for aspiring psychiatrists to consider is working as a psychologist, since psychologists focus on understanding human behavior. Mental health counselors provide counseling and therapy for people with mental health issues, so those who are considering becoming social workers may also be interested in this career.

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