The 5 major differences between a social worker and a psychologist

If you’re contemplating a career as a psychologist or social worker, there are several factors to consider. Certainly, they both provide an invaluable service helping individuals as well as contribute towards building a stronger and healthier community. They are also expected to grow in demand significantly over the coming years.


But they are still different from each other in several important ways. Before deciding which career to pursue, here are five major differences between a psychologist and a social worker to consider.


1. They provide different services

While both professions help people solve or cope with the problems they face in everyday life, the two professions differ inherently in how they help their clients. On one hand, social workers tend to provide more holistic solutions that range from addressing individual and family issues to community-wide social issues. On the other hand, psychologists dive deeper into the cognitive, emotional, and social processes the client demonstrates and use their interpretation to help the client.


2. They require different training and qualifications

As significantly different professions, they also require different qualifications to provide their services.

Social workers typically require a bachelor’s degree in social work, although clinical social workers, who are qualified to provide additional counseling treatments, will have to obtain a master’s degree, combined with two years of relevant experience to become licensed.

Becoming a licensed psychologist usually requires more time and financial resources to obtain, with most psychologists having to complete a doctoral degree alongside supervised experience. It should be noted that some psychology professions only require a master’s degree, such as a media psychologist or a behavioural analyst.


3. They can work in different professional sectors

With their qualifications, both psychologists and social workers can pursue jobs in a variety of sectors.

Psychologists can work independently in a clinic, meeting patients on a one-to-one basis, or as part of a healthcare group that comprises other healthcare workers like physicians and social workers. They may also work in school settings, and venture into the private sector to use their theory-based background to advise businesses on improving employee morale, or help advertisers reach their audiences better.

Like psychologists, social workers can pursue jobs in clinical settings, but they can also work in the public sector such as schools, child welfare and human service agencies, and community development organisations. Their ability to solve problems on a holistic level becomes useful in addressing the systemic problems that affect communities.


4. They earn different salaries

In general, psychologists tend to demand higher salaries than social workers.

In the U.S. for instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the 2020 medium annual salaries for psychologists to be $82,180, while social workers earned $51,760. In 2021, both still earn higher than the national average of $51,168 for all occupations.


5. They have different working hours

Because social workers work in a variety of settings, they often find themselves to have full time yet irregular schedules, and may need to be on call in some positions. Psychologists may also have slightly irregular schedules—those in private practice sometimes work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients. However, most of the time they are likely to occupy normal business hours.


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