If you have a strong interest in human behavior, a desire to help others, and want to find a way to turn this into a career, you may find yourself stumped by the question: Psychology? Social Work? Which route do I take…… and what’s the difference anyway?
We thought we’d help you break it down:
In a nutshell……
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and clinical psychologists have very similar goals in that they both help patients with behavioral disorders, mental illnesses and personal problems. Both are qualified to diagnose these conditions through patient evaluation and offer treatments such as counseling and behavioral modification programs. They both strive to help their patients achieve their greatest overall well-being through clinical assessments and treatments.
First, there are some significant ideological differences. Social Work is deeply rooted in social advocacy. One of the most influential early professionals in social work is Jane Addams, who tirelessly advocated on behalf of vulnerable populations. This legacy endures. Whether it be individual, group, community, or family work, social work combines clinical knowledge with a strong focus on person-in-environment. This means that social workers pay careful attention to external factors that contribute to a specific set of problems, mental health disorders, community challenges, and treatments, and applies a strength based approach to the clients and systems they serve.
Psychologists and licensed counselors place a stronger focus on individual psychological assessment/intervention with heightened attention paid toward a specific set of problems/mental health disorders and evidence-based treatment. There are two paths to becoming a Clinical Psychologist (PhD – more research/academic focused and the PsyD – stronger clinical focus). Another major difference between clinical psychology and social work is in clinical assessment. Psychologists receive more training in advanced psychiatric, personality and cognitive assessment approaches and tools and therefore do more assessments and diagnosing than social workers. Though social workers also assess and diagnose certain conditions, their diagnostic scope is not as wide, and their focus hones more on offering therapy and other treatment services (more on this below).
Nuts and Bolts of Education and Licensure:
Both social work and psychology require a graduate level degree, field experience and state licensing. One can practice clinical social work with a Masters whereas clinical psychology requires a doctoral degree to practice. Below are some important distinctions:
Licensed Clinical Social Work:
- GRAD SCHOOL: LCSWs earn a master’s in social work (MSW) degree from a CSWE Accredited Program. To qualify for clinical licensure, social work students take specific clinical courses required per their state licensing boards. Program length is generally two years. Many programs have 1-year Advanced Standing programs for those who already hold a Bachelors in Social Work (BSW). UNE’s MSW Program offers Advanced Standing.
- FIELD/PRACTICUM: CSWE currently requires MSW students to complete a minimum of 900 hours of field education during their graduate school career. Requirements will vary slightly program to program.
- LICENSURE: Once one has obtained their MSW, they must accrue required supervision hours (as defined by state) within 2 years before sitting for the ASWB exam. (Maine LCSW Licensure Requirements require 96 hours of consultation concurrent with 3,200 hours of social work employment to be completed within 2 years, but this will differ slightly from state to state. KNOW YOUR STATE’S LICENSURE REQUIREMENTS!).
- EXAM: Prepare and sit for the Association of Social Work Boards ( ASWB ) examination
*Note – while many social work positions can require a bachelor’s degree only, one can only practice clinical work at a master level.
Clinical Psychologist (PsyD)
- EDUCATION: A clinical psychologist must earn a doctoral degree (PsyD or PhD) from an APA Accredited program. Program length is usually 4-6 years (A PhD, which is more research oriented, is 5-8 years. *if curious about PhD vs PsyD check out this helpful article)
- FIELD/RESEARCH: APA requires clinical psychology students to complete three annual pre-doctoral field practicums (500 hours each), and a 1 year postdoc internship at APA-accredited internship training program). Research/Dissertation is absolutely required of PhD students and may be required of PsyD. Practicum hours and research will vary slightly program to program.
- LICENSURE: Once one has obtained their Doctoral Degree and completed their postdoc, they can sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EEEP exam), contingent upon their accruing all their supervised clinical hours, which will vary from state to state anywhere from 3000 – 6000 hours. Check out this helpful article about Psychology Licensure.
- EXAM: Prepare and sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EEEP exam).
As stated above, both LCSWs and clinical psychologists are qualified to diagnose behavioral and mental health conditions through patient evaluation and offer treatments such as counseling and behavioral modification programs, but some differences in clinical duties lie in the authority clinical psychologists may have in certain states to prescribe specific medications and to perform psychological testing.
Clinical psychologists have a doctoral education that can lead to a higher salary than what LCSWs make, while LCSWs are predicted to have slightly better career prospects in terms of job growth and ease of entry into the occupation as well as a wider range of career opportunities available to them. The breadth of material covered in the MSW curriculum prepares social workers for a diverse range of career opportunities that includes professions both within and outside the clinical counseling profession. Examples include social reform, care coordination, social service work, medical social work, public health, forensic social work, non-profit work, NGO work, prison reform etc. As a clinical psychologist your job opportunities are more finely tuned to clinical psychology and counseling.
As the educational path to clinical social work is shorter, one can begin clinical practice more quickly as an LCSW than as a clinical psychologist. Both LCSW’s and PsyD’s can bill third party, but billing laws will differ state to state so be sure to check your state’s requirements.
Though there are many similarities, there are also significant differences. As The Ancient Greek aphorism reminds us, the most important thing is to “know thyself.” Weigh the facts, search yourself, then take the leap! UNE’s MSW Program is always here if you decide an MSW is just the thing you’re looking for.