LCSW vs. Psychologist Careers
What is the Difference between Social Work and Psychology?
If you desire to help others and learn more about human behavior and social needs, then consider a degree in social work or psychology. Receiving a graduate degree in social work or psychology provides you with many more job opportunities and careers options than a bachelor’s degree, though you may also find some work with a bachelor’s degree alone.
You can complete a master’s degree in social work or a master’s degree in psychology and if you choose to continue on, you can complete a doctorate in social work or a doctorate in psychology. In regards to psychology, if you wanted to provide counseling and therapeutic support, receiving a degree in counseling psychology is a good option.
Careers in Social Work and Psychology
There are many similar and different types of jobs you can receive whether you earn a degree in social work or psychology. Typically, the education and foundation of your training has most emphasis in social services and needs if you pursue a degree in social work while a degree in psychology would focus more on human behavior and social sciences.
Social Work Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree
When you complete your bachelor’s degree in social work you are considered a BSW and are eligible for jobs within the social service system, such as a case manager or jobs related to supporting children and families within foster care or child protective services.
Psychology Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree
When you complete your bachelor’s degree in psychology, you are qualified for entry level jobs in mental health and psychological services such as a mental health technician and support staff within a psychiatric hospital. You could also even become an Applied Behavioral Therapist for children with autism. Most of the jobs you can get with a bachelor’s in psychology are typically related to supporting master’s and doctorate level professionals with their client needs and services.
Social Work Careers with a Master’s Degree
When you complete your master’s in social work (MSW), you are able to enter the workforce as a social service and counseling provider. With an MSW you can complete your licensure and become a clinical social worker (LCSW). Here are some jobs you could get following the completion of your MSW and eventually LCSW.
Clinical Social Worker
Clinical social workers provide case management and support to children and families and within the social service system, such as foster care and adoption. You can also provide counseling and therapeutic services to children, families, and adults in various settings such as outpatient clinics, intensive outpatient programs, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse programs, correction facilities, the military and many others.
Hospital Social Worker
As a social worker in a hospital, you are able to provide case management and therapeutic support to patients in a hospital setting that are receiving medical care. An advantage to receiving your master’s degree in social work is that hospitals only typically hire master’s level clinicians that have their LCSW, when you would often need to have your doctorate in psychology to be considered for a psychologist position at a medical hospital.
You can also work to become a manager of treatment facilities and organizations providing social services and mental health support. Typically, this position would not be available for entry level employment, but rather you would earn these positions through years of experience. You do not need to complete your LCSW or any other type of licensure to pursue this type of job.
School Social Worker
This position requires a specific graduate degree in school social work and would allow you provide counseling and case management support to students in a school setting. You also are able to collaborate, educate, and advocate for mental health needs with school staff and the students. Some school social workers are not required to complete their LCSW licensure to practice within a school, but all require school social work education and a certificate (similar to teachers) for working within schools.
Psychology Careers with a Master’s Degree
When you complete your master’s in psychology, you can work in a variety of jobs related to mental health and social sciences. There are different avenues in education and licensure you must choose between when receiving a master’s in psychology for your future jobs. Here are some careers you are qualified for following the completion of your master’s degree in psychology.
Following your master’s degree you can work to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and provide counseling and therapeutic support to children, families, and/or adults within various settings including outpatient clinics, intensive outpatient programs, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse programs, correction facilities, the military and many others.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Similar to an LPC, a marriage and family therapist provides counseling and psychotherapy in similar settings, however, their expertise and focus is primarily on couples and family counseling. Furthermore, they become licensed as Marriage and Family therapy (LMFT).
You can also work to become a manager of treatment facilities and organizations providing social services and mental health support. Typically, this position would not be available for entry level employment, but rather you would earn these positions through years of experience.
School Counselor or School Psychologist
Becoming a school counselor or school psychologist requires a specific graduate degree in school counseling or school psychology, but would allow you provide counseling and mental health support to students in a school setting. You also are able to collaboratively work, educate, and advocate for mental health needs with school staff and the students.
Research Assistant or Coordinator
If you desire to focus less on counseling and more on academic and research needs within the field of psychology, then pursuing a professional degree within research is possible with a master’s degree in psychology. Within this field you are able to support psychologist and doctors in specialized areas of psychological research in various settings such as universities, academic hospitals, and professional research organizations.
Social Work Careers with a Doctoral Degree
A doctorate (PhD) in social work typically leads to jobs within an academic setting, either teaching and/or conducting research in the social work field.
Social workers that receive their doctorates can also work as a clinician. Doctorate level social workers are just like an LCSW, but have more extensive training and experience as a social worker and when working with clients.
As a professor you will work within a university setting, typically within the department social work, teaching social work courses, providing academic counseling and advisement to social work students, and conducting research within specialized topics related to social and community needs. You would typically not have to earn any specific licensures to become a professor.
Social workers can also pursue a non-clinical route, conducting research at universities within the social work department or for organizations specializing in areas such as social welfare. You would typically not have to earn any specific licensures to hold research positions.
There are many type of administrative roles you are qualified for with your doctorate in social work including a clinical director or manager of a mental health treatment center, helping run or manage non-profit organizations, or work in administrative roles and directorial roles within the social service system. You would typically not have to earn any specific licensures and do not always need to have a doctorate to work in an administrative role related to social work, but any of these could make you a more competitive job candidate when applying to administrative positions.
Psychology Careers with a Doctoral Degree
You could work as a licensed psychologist and practice in various settings related to mental health treatment such as outpatient clinics or psychiatric or medical hospitals. Psychologists also can provide supervision and advisement to mental health employees, master’s level clinicians, and other psychologists within mental health treatment settings. You must become licensed as a clinical psychologist to hold a psychologist position and work clinically with clients or to provide supervision.
You can work within a university in the psychology department teaching psychology courses, providing academic advisement, and/or conducting research in a desired specialty of psychology. You do not have to become licensed as a psychologist to hold this type of job, but in order to conduct clinical work or counsel clients, you must be licensed.
You can conduct independent research within specialized areas of psychology for medical or teaching hospitals, universities, or various types of organizations or companies. You do not have to be a licensed psychologist to hold this type of job.
You can work as a director or president of companies related to mental health or psychology in which you manage departments, employees, and ensure the program or company department is working effectively and efficiently. You can hold high level positions within organizations and companies, and having a doctorate degree makes you a competitive candidate for these types of jobs.
Are the Education Paths for Social Work and Psychology Different?
The biggest difference between social work and psychology is the emphasis and foundation. Social work programs typically focus on social welfare and the social service system and psychology programs typically focus on human behavior and psychological influences of the individual or groups of people. Ultimately, both educational paths train and prepare you to help others as clinicians, educators, and/or researchers. Therefore, the educational paths to work within the field of social work and psychology are similar, but the content and focus of study differs depending on which discipline you choose.
Social Work Education Requirements
A bachelor’s degree in social work, or BSW, allows you to work within entry level roles in the social service system and mental health treatment centers, such as a case manager. A master’s degree in social work, MSW, allows you to work as a clinician and work towards completing your licensure as an LCSW. Many terminal master’s programs (master’s only) focus on training and developing you as clinician in the field, while a master’s program within a doctoral program typically focuses more on clinical research within the field of social work and requires you to complete a research master’s thesis prior to graduating from this type of program. These graduates likely are continuing on to complete a doctorate. A doctorate degree (PhD) in social work allows you to work as a professor, professional researcher, and practice with a deeper and more advanced knowledge within the field of social work, but you would have the same licensure as a master’s level clinician, LCSW. Specifically, you would complete advanced coursework, clinical internships/training, and a dissertation conducting research within your desired area of study related to the field of social work.
Psychology Education Requirements
A bachelor’s degree in psychology allows you to work in entry level positions related to mental health and human behavior. Typically, you will support a licensed clinician in the field, such as an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) therapist helping children with autism or as a case manager within the social service system.
A master’s degree in psychology or counseling psychology allows you to become licensed as an LPC or LMFT to provide psychotherapy to clients in various settings and populations. A terminal master’s (master’s only) typically focuses more on counseling and training clinicians to work within the field and often do not require a master’s thesis to graduate. However, if you earn a master’s degree within a psychology doctoral program, your program will tend to focus more heavily on research and training future psychologists within the field of psychology. You usually must complete a master’s thesis requirement prior to graduation. When you complete your doctorate in psychology (PhD or PsyD), you are able to attain a more advanced licensure as a psychologist as opposed to the LPC or LMFT licensure you attain following a master’s degree in psychology.
PhD programs tend to focus more heavily on research and PsyD programs tend to focus more on training future clinicians to work in the field as psychologists, and less on research. While completing a doctorate in psychology you also are trained through practicums to enhance your clinical skills and knowledge, complete advanced psychology coursework, and complete a dissertation within your desired area of psychology. Lastly, if you receive a doctorate in psychology and wish to become licensed as a psychologist, you are required to complete a doctoral internship approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) towards the end of your program in which you apply to external clinical sites and are matched based on your qualifications and areas of interest. This requirement is unique to psychology as you are not required to complete this type of extensive clinical internship when earning your doctorate in social work. If you do not wish to become a licensed psychologist, you can pursue psychology doctoral programs that are solely research focused and do not train you as a clinician in which you could become a professional researcher or professor following graduation.
Licensing in Social Work vs. Psychology
Social Work — LCSW
There is only one form of licensure available when completing a graduate degree in social work and that is an LCSW. Here are the requirements:
1. Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in social work and ensure you have completed the required coursework related to the state you choose to practice within.
2. Complete post-graduate supervised clinical hours. These hour requirements vary by state but most states require about 3,000 hours total, including clinical experience such as face-to-face individual or group counseling and supervision with an approved licensed social worker.
3. Pass the licensing exam which is typically the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) national clinical exam and a law and ethics exam that is specific to the state you are applying to practice within.You are required to renew your licensure and complete continuing education in order to maintain an LCSW within the state you are practicing following approval of your LCSW license.
Psychology — LPC or LMFT
Both licensures (LPC and LMFT) allow you to provide psychotherapy in a variety of settings. However, LMFTs specialize in issues related to marriage and families. Here are both the LPC and LMFT requirements:
1. Complete a master’s in psychology. LPC clinicians usually benefit from completing a terminal master’s program that is CACREP accredited, while LMFT clinicians would benefit from completing a program that specializes in marriage and family therapy and is COAMFTE accredited. These accreditations and specializations are not required to achieve these licensures, but typically result in you taking extra courses and specialized training to meet the licensure requirements if your program is not accredited accordingly.
2. Both licensures require you to complete post-graduate supervised clinical hours. These hour requirements vary dependent by state but usually require 3,000 hours total, including clinical experience such as face-to-face individual or group counseling and supervision with an approved supervisor that has worked as an LPC or LMFT for over five years or is a licensed psychologist.
3. Pass the required licensing exam which is typically the National Counselors Exam (NCE) for an LPC and the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Exam for an LMFT.
You are required to renew your licensure and complete required continuing education in order to maintain an LPC or LMFT within the state you are practicing following approval of your license. Some clinicians that complete both of these licensures to increase their knowledge and experience within the field of counseling if you desired.
Psychology — Licensed Psychologist
1. Complete your clinical doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in psychology and an APA approved doctoral internship prior to graduation.
2. Complete approved clinically supervised hours that typically require approximately 1,000 hours of clinical experience such as face-to-face individual and group counseling, consultations and assessments, and supervision.
You are required to renew your licensure and complete required continuing education in order to maintain a licensure within the state you are practicing following approval.
Salaries in Social Work vs. Psychology
Salaries with a Bachelor’s Degree
Whether your complete your bachelor’s in social work or psychology, you typically are able to enter jobs that provide assistance to clinicians, such as a Social and Human Service Assistant, who make an average salary of $33,120 annually (O*Net, 2018).
Salaries with a Master’s Degree
If you earn a master’s degree in social work, you can work in schools or clinical settings as a Social Worker, which has an average salary of $44,380 annually (O*Net, 2018). If you earn a master’s degree in psychology you can work as a Mental Health Counselor, which has an average salary of $46,740 annually, or as a Marriage and Family Therapist, which has an average salary of $48,790 annually (O*Net, 2018). If you want a career within social science research, either in social work or psychology, you can work as a Social Science Research Assistant and earn an average salary of $46,000 annually (O*Net, 2018).
Salaries with a Doctoral Degree
If you earn a doctorate in social work or psychology you can work in academia, clinical settings, or within research at the most advanced levels. You can work as a Social Work Professor and make an average salary of $64,370 annually or as a Psychology Professor which makes an average salary of $73,770 annually (O*Net, 2018).
If you want to work as a clinician and you pursue a doctorate in social work you could work as an LCSW, described in the master’s salary section. If you pursue a doctorate in psychology you could become licensed as a Clinical Psychologist or a Counseling Psychologist and make an average salary of $75,090 annually (O*Net, 2018). Lastly, you could pursue a career within social work or psychology research and work as a Social Scientist within either field and potentially make an average salary of $79,370 annually (O*Net, 2018).