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The Difference Between A Social Work Degree And A Psychology Degree

Some are just drawn to helping others. Whether through small acts of kindness, or dedicating their entire careers to it, some people actively look for ways to make society a better place. People actively seek ways to make the world better for others, whether this is by helping an individual or a family.

While psychologists aim to work with and aid the individual in understanding the human mind and human behaviors, social workers aim to help the family and community units comprised of multiple individuals.

Psychologists focus on the micro and individual level, and social workers focus on the macro level.

Let us take a deeper look at these two career fields, the differences between each, and the academic paths you would need to pursue in each role.

The Focus Of Psychology Degrees

Psychologists pay keen focus and attention to the human mind. The study of psychology aims to study the processes of the human mind, it aims to assess what is considered normal and abnormal behavior, it aims to assess why individuals may be prone to addiction, and it aims to assess the brain and mental faculties of an individual.

The study of psychology is multi-tiered and multidimensional, offering insights into how people may be susceptible to mental illnesses, mental difficulties, and inclined to certain at-risk behaviors. Psychologists can provide therapy for those who have suffered brain injuries.

The field of psychology resides at the unique and fascinating intersection where the physical meets the subliminal. It is here where they work on both the physical changes of the brain and how this may impact a person's personality or behavior.

But beyond that, psychologists are professionals at understanding the human mind.

The Focus Of Social Work Degrees

Social work degrees, while also greatly focused on providing assistance services, are geared towards both the individual and families and their integration into societies. The main goal of social workers is to provide individuals and families with social equity.

These individuals step in when families and individuals are faced with challenges that make integration into society extremely difficult to achieve. Their duties are most prominently seen where there is poverty, illness, family abuse, housing problems, and difficulties faced with society and community integration.

Social workers need to be equipped with incredibly unique skills that allow them to assess and analyze the familial relations of a family to ascertain if there is anything that is not in line with societal norms. They are required to maintain a safe distance from the family with whom they are working while being close enough to assess if any dire situations arise.

Although both psychologists and social workers are geared towards the same outcome, which is helping people improve their overall well-being, social workers serve to assist people in coping with problems that they face on a daily basis.

Social workers play a unique role in not only directly assisting families and individuals that are facing difficulties, but also an indirect role in advocating for the family and raising awareness of the challenges that people face.

They also play a huge role in helping people adjust. They need to be skilled at counseling and advising individuals, families, and even communities.

They are often faced with the unique decision of intervening or allowing a family to continue as they have been. Each decision they make is centered around what is the best outcome for those involved. The social worker will be able to determine if a family has to ability to come out of difficult situations without any external assistance. However, these decisions are made with utmost caution.

Differences In Education

At the very least, psychologists are required to have a bachelor's degree in psychology, but prospects are limited when candidates just hold a bachelor's degree. It is therefore a prerequisite that those hoping to pursue a career in psychology obtain either their master's degree or a doctoral degree in psychology.

This will allow them to directly interact with patients, work at a health care institute, or establish their own practice. Once achieving their higher degree, psychologists can also conduct research and psychological assessments on patients.

Both degrees will equip candidates with the psychosocial skills that they will need to help people, but each will vary in the approach and the extent of the courses that are covered.

Additionally, one of the most notable differences between a master's degree in social work and a master's degree in psychology is that the social work degree will look at cultural diversity, human behavior and development, the history of social work, as well as established policies.

Licensure Or Certification

Both psychologists and social workers find themselves working with vulnerable populations, almost on a daily basis. It is for that reason that before they can actively assume their role, especially in a clinical setting, they would need to obtain the relevant and appropriate licensure and certification.

Because both roles are practical, social workers and psychologists will need to complete supervised hours of practical work to be suitable for the role.

Social workers must complete a minimum of two years supervised clinical work, and they are required to complete a clinical exam to obtain their license. Social workers can obtain a license to practice from the Association of Social Work Boards.

Psychologists would need to obtain a license to clinically practice as a psychologist from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, or the American Psychology Association, and they are required to successfully complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Career Outlook For Psychologists And Social Workers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earn a median annual salary of $81,040 and have a projected career growth of around 8% between 2020 and 2030.

The BLS also states that social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,390 and has a projected career growth of 12% between 2020 and 2030.

Similarities And Differences

The most notable difference between a social worker and a psychologist is that a social worker aims to help individuals deal with the difficult obstacles that they face in their lives and enhance their quality of life. Psychologists on the other hand work in a more clinical environment treating people in hospitals and clinics and they focus predominantly on mental illness and mental illness.

Additionally, while social workers won't necessarily work in a clinical setting, they do operate in schools, old age homes, foster care facilities, and some health care facilities where they hope to assist people who may have received unexpected health diagnoses.


Is Psychology A Part Of Social Work?

To an extent, both psychology and social work are careers that hope to meet the same objective: equipping individuals and families with the tools they need to help themselves. Both career paths are also geared towards identifying mental illnesses and devising treatment plans for families and individuals.

Can A Social Worker Diagnose Mental Illnesses?

With the education, experience, and expertise that social workers possess, they are able to identify and diagnose mental illnesses. They have the authority to make such a diagnosis and have the authority to refer patients to seek further psychological assistance, especially when they present signs of being a risk to themselves or others.


If you are seeking a career path that can actively help others and if you are seeking to play a role in making the lives of others much better, then you are spoiled for choice. Both psychology and social work are careers that thrive on a passion for others, a dedication for being selfless, and provide you with outstanding career prospects that can feed into your passion.

find social work degrees and psychology degrees near you