From career progression to day-to-day duties and responsibilities, there are more differences between social work and counseling than you might expect. Find out for yourself and consider where your career path should go.

At first glance, social work and counseling may seem like very similar social work careers. After all, both social workers and counselors care for the mental health and well-being of their clients. While they share a certain degree of professional overlap, there are significant differences between the two that affect day-to-day duties, as well as career prospects.

Jobs in both social work and counseling are expected to increase, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that demand for social workers specializing in mental health and substance use is expected to grow by 23 percent from 2012 to 2022 – much faster than the average for other occupations.

So how do the two roles differ, and why should you invest in a Master’s of Social Work degree?

Adapting the Environment to the Client

Counselors help clients work through their emotions, develop coping strategies and adapt to their environment. Social workers specializing in mental health do these things too, but they also help adapt the environment for the client. In other words, social workers focus on the external as well as the internal.

This involves providing a wide range of services within large social service systems. Social workers may contact government agencies and potential employers on behalf of clients to discuss special needs; advise family members and caregivers on caring for a client, or teach skills required for everyday living.

The National Association of Social Workers states: “Social workers help individuals, families, and groups restore or enhance their capacity for social functioning, and work to create societal conditions that support communities in need.”

Service Provision

Counselors offer guidance on personal, social or psychological problems to individuals, groups, and communities. Social workers take a leadership role in the care and advocacy of clients that may also include families, organizations, and communities. They may perform clinical assessments, advocate for entitlements, provide education and manage a caseload of complex cases.

When it comes to career opportunities, social work offers employment in a wide range of careers, including roles that direct clinical programs, work with community committees and develop social welfare policies. Social workers are found in a variety of settings, from private practice to hospitals and health clinics, school systems, child welfare and mental health agencies, and correctional facilities.

Counselors may work in not-for-profit organizations, clinics or private practice, among other options.

A Degree of Difference

Unsurprisingly, careers in social work and counseling require different qualifications. A counseling degree offers training in various types of guidance, such as family therapy and rehabilitation, while a social work degree prepares students for the rigors of therapy as well as negotiating the environments that influence client mental health.

The degree requirement for social work is a Bachelor of Social Work, but according to the NASW, many positions now require a Master’s of Social Work – and the advanced qualification is a must-have for clinical work and positions in health settings.

To give yourself that critical competitive edge, explore your education options and find the right Master of Social Work program for you.


Article Name
What's the Difference Between Being a Counselor and Having a Master's of Social Work?
Discover the differences between social work and counseling, and decide which career path is right for you.