Helping a person suffering from mental health problems through counseling to resolve the issues and to grow in self-assurance and maturity is one of the most satisfying experiences in human endeavor. If this kind of work appeals to you, there are two professional paths you might explore: clinical psychology or social work. This article looks at the key differences between these two professions.
Differences in Training
Practicing psychologists must have a PhD, PsyD, or EdD . The doctoral programs take four or five years to complete and also require one or two years of supervised clinical work and an examination.
Social workers attend graduate school for two years to complete a Masters of Social Work (MSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) degree, plus two to three years of supervised clinical work and experience in working with community agencies.
Graduate training in Psychology requires study of all aspects of human behavior, with an emphasis on research and the scientific basis of clinical practice. Psychological testing, diagnosis, and methods of psychotherapy equip the graduate for clinical practice.
Social work training looks at clients’ social milieu and studies their relationships with family and the broader communities within which they live. There is an emphasis on social justice and the utilization of community resources.
Differences in Focus of Counseling
The basic difference in the counseling provided by the two professions lies in where they focus their therapeutic work. Psychologists focus on the individual bringing the problem. They look at the inner functioning of the individual through assessment, diagnose the problem, and provide the appropriate psychotherapy. The American Psychological Association shares further nuances among the different types of mental health professionals.
Social workers view the patient as a unit within the social system. They, therefore, look beyond the individual to the social, biological and psychological factors contributing to the patient’s problem and to bring the appropriate social service program to help with the solution of the problems.
Differences in Work Settings
Many clinical psychologists engage in private practice in their own offices. Others practice in settings such as hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation facilities, and mental health centers. They often work with a team of other specialists.
Clinical social workers may work in some of the same settings such as hospitals, schools, and mental health facilities. They also work in community health centers, substance abuse clinics, and child welfare agencies.
Choosing Between the Two Professions
Aside from practical considerations of time and costs, there are ways of considering the two professions on the basis of a student’s interests and personality. Clinical psychology would appeal more to those who are interested in the theoretical aspects of human behavior and are challenged to help bring change to a client’s behavior and problem-solving abilities. Students drawn to social work are generally interested in the social forces impacting the patient and place focus on bringing the external resources needed to help the client. A perusal of the courses in the graduate programs will also help in choosing between the two.
A person’s choice between clinical psychology or social work may be dictated by the availability of time, funds, or other factors rather than by personal preference. Regardless, there will be similarities between the two that will satisfy the interests and capability of aspirants of either program. Counseling to alleviate, enable and empower a suffering individual is a noble vocation indeed.
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