What is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Social Worker?

Social WorkerFrom job responsibilities to education requirements, there is a distinct difference between a counselor and social worker, despite the perceived similarities. Either could be a good career path for someone wishing to interact with patients in a mental health setting, but understanding the individual approach may help determine the best option.

Job Description of Social Worker

Social workers are individuals who work in a variety of settings to help patients understand and solve problems that may arise in everyday life. A more specialized variation of this position is a clinical social worker who can also identify and treat a variety of mental and emotional problems. Both types of social workers may work in government agencies, hospitals, schools or private practices depending on what they hope to achieve with their work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This career requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field; a master’s degree is required for clinical social workers who must also undergo supervised training in a clinical setting to gain experience before being able to obtain independent licensure. In 2012, the median annual salary for a social worker was about $44,200 although licensed, clinical social workers earn a larger salary.

Job Description of Counselor

There are a few different types of counselors, titles and responsibilities for which are mostly dependent on the environment in which the counselor works. Guidance counselors are generally those who work in schools, working directly with students to not only provide guidance on personal or social problems but also help them in planning their future education and career path. Marriage counselors are trained specifically to assist couples deal with personal problems pertaining to their marriage, while mental health counselors are comparable to clinical social workers in that they deal with treating mental and psychological issues in their patients. Counselors work to help their patients understand their problems and find ways to work through these issues by making positive changes in themselves and their outlook. In general, a bachelor’s degree is required for any type of counselor while those working as a clinical mental health counselor must obtain a master’s and two years of supervised clinical training. A licensed professional counselor earns an average of $43,736 annually, and those specializing in substance abuse and trauma receive the highest salaries.

Differences Between Counselors and Social Workers

The two careers can seem very similar, and often time, the role of social workers and counselors can overlap. One of the major differences between counselors and social workers is the approach which they use to help resolve patients’ problems, according to Social Work Licensure. Counselors often work to find solutions for patients which can be implemented on their own; their focus is on the healing power of discussion and self-realization. Clinical social workers on the other hand often seek ways to help their clients by altering their environment to better suit their clients’ needs and help them deal with their problems. They are often in contact with employers and housing agencies among other organizations that will aid in resolving issues, thus allowing clients to work through their problems. Other differences may be more technical, such as state laws concerning licensure and the amount of preparation required for cases.

Related Resource: School Guidance Counselor

With similar salaries, work environments and responsibilities, social workers and counselors have many similar duties in their daily work. Understanding the difference between a counselor and a social worker as well as the ways in which these jobs can overlap will help interested individuals decide on a future career path.