Difference between a Social Worker and a Psychologist

By: | Updated: Dec-21, 2017
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There are many career paths you could follow if you have a calling to help people. The roles you can play and the responsibilities you take on will differ with each path. It all depends on how much you want to do, on how involved you want to be, and on what you need to do to get there. Let’s take the jobs of psychologist and social worker, for example. What are the differences between them?

Summary Table

Social Worker Psychologist
Handles a variety of issues for the assisted person Only offers counseling and therapy
Handles counseling for more immediate and moderate problems Best for long-term counseling of deep rooted psychological problems
Must have a master’s degree in social work Must have a PhD in psychology
Can earn between $40,000 and $65,000 a year Can earn between $70,000 and $95,000 a year
Is assigned a case Must be contacted by the patient


a social worker sitting next to a woman

A social worker is a trained professional who can assist a person in a difficult period. He/she can take care of anything from childcare or health and living assistance to emotional and financial distress. In order to become a social worker, you must get your master’s degree in social work, and successfully complete a specific number of hours under supervision. Before practicing this job, you must pass exams and practice under the supervision of a professional.

Apart from counseling, social workers have access to resources they can make use of in their work. Food stamps, welfare benefits, assistance in drafting papers for people who qualify for various types of social support from the state are only some of them.

Clinical social workers are a category of professionals offering emotional support to people in immediate need. They train to handle difficult situations that may arise in institutions such as hospitals, schools, and community centers. In these situations, the social worker interferes when called by his colleagues.

A psychologist is a medical professional who can help people suffering from emotional distress, from mild to severe cases. In order to become a psychologist, you need a PhD in psychology, years of practice, and to have passed their license exams at the end.

The main responsibilities of psychologists consist of therapy and counseling. Deep emotional issues are analyzed during these sessions and the patient is encouraged to find a solution for himself/herself. People in need of medication are referred to psychiatrists.

For psychological sessions, you need to contact the doctor yourself. In some cases, a court may assign psychological counseling.

Social Worker vs Psychologist

So what is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?

The main difference between a social worker and a psychologist consists in the type of help and support each of them is qualified to give. A social worker can assist a person in finding solutions for a variety of problems, from financial help to day-to-day issues, as well as some emotional support. Therefore, someone upset about financial difficulties can address a social worker for help and for support and encouragement during this period. A severe depression, however, must be addressed by a psychologist. Although clinical social workers may train to offer counseling to moderate problems, they are also the people who interfere on the spot. If a person suffers a shock upon hearing of the death of a relative in the hospital, the clinical social worker can interfere on the spot. For long-term assistance, a psychologist is usually contacted.

There is a difference in education, as psychologists specialize in counseling, while social workers must also handle other tasks. Social workers must know the law, who qualifies for what type of state assistance, how to convince people to accept, and how to file for specific types of support.

Their salaries will also differ. A psychologist can work on his/her own and can charge a fee in accordance with the certifications and the professional achievements. A social worker, on the other hand, is employed by the state, by non-profit institutions, or by similar organizations that offer support.

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