Social Work vs Psychology

Sometimes careers can be similar, making it more difficult to choose between the two. If you are interested in entering the career field of psychology or social work, it is crucial to understand the differences between the two so you can make the best decision for your future. 


Before you begin your career, whether you choose social work or psychology, you need to earn the appropriate degree. The primary difference in degrees for social work and psychology occurs at the graduate level. Those who are interested in working in social work pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), while those interested in a psychology career typically pursue a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.). To complete a social work degree requires two years of coursework, along with practical training in the field. Those who are interested in completing a psychology degree must complete four to six years of coursework, followed by one to two years of supervised work in the field.


One of the major considerations you need to make in choosing between social work and psychology is the salary. Because of the differences in education requirements and job description, the average salary can vary widely for individuals. Wages can also vary depending on the chosen specialty. For instance, individuals who work in child, family and school social work make about $44,410 per year, while those who choose health care social work are more likely to make about $50,500. Individuals in the area of mental health and substance abuse can make an average of $42,650. Those individuals who choose psychology will earn an average of $73,090, whether individuals work in schools, a clinical situation or counseling.

Job Descriptions

Both social work and psychology may have some similar work, but the actual job descriptions vary. The primary focus of social workers is on working with families and individuals to improve their quality of life. Social workers must have a thorough understanding of basic human development and behavior in order to work directly with individuals, families or other groups with the goal of building stronger communities. Social workers help clients overcome personal challenges and help them develop the skills they need to succeed in life. If the scope of an individual’s problems is beyond a social worker’s training, a referral to a psychologist may become necessary.

Psychologists also work with those who are experiencing trouble in their lives, but typically work with individuals rather than whole families or other groups. When an individual sees a psychologist, he or she may undergo psychological testing or counseling. The psychologist can identify the problem behavior can in order to help their patients adapt to the challenges. The primary goal of psychologists is to perform diagnostic testing for mental illnesses and provide psychotherapy to their patients.

Work Environments

The work environments in which social workers and psychologists spend their time is also quite different. While both careers can involve working in an office setting, providing therapy and counseling to individuals, groups and families, there are also differences in the environment. For instance, psychologists often work in hospitals or in private office settings. Social workers, on the other hand, work in a large variety of locations, including rehab centers, nursing homes, schools, mental health institutions, prisons, military bases and many other locations.

As individuals make choices for their future career, it is valuable to weigh the pros and cons of each type of work they consider. Some individuals use the terms of psychologist and social worker interchangeably, but the two jobs differ significantly. While the two careers share some similarities, they provide different care to individuals and require different degrees. Once you understand the differences between these two career paths, you will be better equipped to make the right choice for your future.