Skip to content

What is the Difference Between a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Licensed Professional Counselor?

Working in the mental health field is a rewarding career and there is a broad range of roles and paths that one can take after earning their degree and becoming a licensed professional. When it comes to social workers and counselors, there are many similarities but they also greatly differ.

The difference between Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Professional Counselors can sometimes be confused, especially by those who do not practice one of these two disciplines. While both groups of professionals work with clients battling issues with mental illness and substance abuse, this is about where the similarities end. Keep reading to learn more about these incredible mental health based careers.

The Role and Education of a Licensed Professional Counselor

Licensed Professional Counselors have earned a master’s degree in counseling or psychology, and must earn state licensure to practice counseling in each state that they operate in. Counseling is, according to the American Counseling Association, a collaboration between the counselor and client to identify goals and solutions to problems identified by the client, improving communication and coping skills, strengthening self-esteem, and promoting behavioral change to optimize one’s mental health.

Counselors typically work one-on-one with clients, or may engage in specialized group counseling sessions when appropriate. A mental health counselor, regardless of where they are working, focuses on talk therapy to help their patients work through their struggles.

In some cases counseling may be court-ordered, or mandated by the involvement of a client in a mental health treatment program, but is treated as being a personal choice made by the client. Those in the counseling profession must undergo a minimum of 60 hours of advanced, graduate level training, pass a national certification test, and be supervised by currently practicing counselors for several years before earning the right to practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Where Does a Licensed Professional Counselor Work?

While some counselors engage in private practice, many counselors are employed by hospitals, clinics, schools, and universities, and are typically part of a staff of treatment specialists that may also include psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. According to the American Counseling Association, there is a broad range of opportunities for those entering the counseling profession. A professional may be inspired by guidance counselors from their past and want to help children and teens in their developmental stages. They could become a school counselor, a camp counselor, etc. Or they may want to help couples or families and become a marriage counselor or family counselor. There are many options and career paths for a mental health counselor.

The Role and Education of Licensed Clinical Social Workers

Like Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers must also earn a master’s degree, and pass state licensure requirements before practicing as a Social Worker. While social workers can perform counseling services, counseling is only one component of their training. Social workers also assist their clients with finding and accessing resources that promote a client’s quality of life, and may be involved in the legislative process dictating these services.

Where Does a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Work?

Social workers are needed and appreciated all across the world. They may be employed in hospitals, clinics, universities, and various forms of governmental roles and offices.

Choosing Between Becoming a Counselor or Social Worker

In both cases, becoming a counselor or a social worker requires that you complete an undergraduate degree, and both apply and be accepted into a graduate program in either counseling or social work. The bulk of your educational preparation as a counselor will involve advanced counseling theory and techniques. Social workers will receive an adequate amount of counseling training to be able to perform counseling services, but will spend the remainder of their graduate education learning about laws, best practices, and locating proper resources for their clients. In many situations, counselors and social workers often work alongside one another in hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation settings.

Salary Differences Between Counselors and Social Workers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 Social Workers earned a mean annual salary of $47,880. ┬áCounselors were recorded to have earned a mean average wage of $46,050. This difference is about 4 percent. For two careers that require similar course work, master’s degrees, and certifications, this is not a surprising comparison.

In Sum…

Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Clinical Social Workers each perform similar services and earn a similar salary. The primary difference between the two being that counselors focus the entirety of their education and practice on counseling and counseling theory, while this is just a component of the job for a social worker. Social workers also have to find ways for client’s to improve their lives in terms of housing, careers, etc. They may also be involved in legislative processes involving their clients. Whether you are looking for the right counselor or social worker or you are starting your career, we hope our explanations have been helpful.

Related Resources: