Many people use the terms counselor and social worker interchangeably, but is this correct? What is the difference between counselors and social workers, anyway? Both professions have similar academic requirements for licensure. Counseling places more of an emphasis on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders or specific sets of problems. Social work, on the other hand, can involve counseling but also has a focus on helping patients or others in need to navigate the system to get the help that they need. The demand for social workers has grown steadily since 2011, and the market for counselors is also expected to keep growing.

The Role of a Counselor

Although counseling is often associated with providing help for mental illness or relationship issues, this field covers a wide variety of problems and circumstances. The main job of a counselor is to help their clients overcome personal challenges and obstacles that they are facing. Mental health and wellness are among the top types of issues that counselors cope with regularly. However, counselors can also assist their clients with career and educational goals. Regardless of a counselor’s area of specialty, all adhere to established professional standards and use proven psychotherapy methods to help their clients.

difference between social worker and counselor

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What a Social Worker Does

Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, ranging from human service agencies to schools and hospitals. A social worker performs some of the same functions as a counselor. According to Chron, in addition to providing counseling for all ages, social workers can help their clients obtain benefits and other services that they require. A professional experienced in social work knows how to navigate the social services system to provide the most assistance to their clients. Training in social skills and vocational rehabilitation are two other popular functions that professionals in this field frequently perform.

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How Education is Similar and Different

The difference between counselors and social workers are not as easy to see from looking at the educational requirements. Both of these programs require a similar amount of time to complete, have a clinical field experience requirement, and involve taking courses with an emphasis on counseling. However, each course of study will have some classes that are not part of the other study program. A counseling degree program might require more classes on different psychology subsets, for example, and a social work degree might involve sociology courses, especially for those interested in working with specific social groups.

Related Resource: Top 30 Most Affordable Master’s in Counseling Online Degree Programs

What Types of Settings These Professionals Work in

Both counselors and social workers are likely to work in hospitals or residential facility settings. In this capacity, these professionals may provide counseling for people coping with a medical condition, as well as support for their family and help with getting benefits. Social workers often work in school settings, both providing counseling and helping students and their families find the resources they need. Many of the positions available for counselors or social workers involve working for county and state governments, as well as the federal government.

The difference between counselors and social workers is vital to understanding the essential work that they do. When people know more about the work these professionals do, they will have a greater appreciation for their work.