Difference Between Social Work and Psychology

The difference between social work and psychology is one area we’ll be discussing. For many people, not much is known regarding the critical differences between the two.

In other situations, people assume social work and psychology to be the same.

In reality, there are apparent differences in their area of focus. Although both of these (social work and psychology) are fields within the social sciences, they specialize in different aspects of the study, as you’ll find out below.

Social Work vs. Psychology Degree

Every discipline or field has its area of specialization that addresses specific problems or issues.

Sometimes, the differences between different fields can be blurred when you don’t know the specifics. People are likely to have all sorts of misconceptions about the course.

To understand the differences between social work and psychology, it’s necessary to start by introducing each concept. In other words, we’ll need to discuss who a social worker is and also who a psychologist is.

i. The Social Worker

A social worker is a trained professional with the knowledge to help vulnerable individuals and communities through common challenges faced in everyday life.

It’s a hands-on profession, and the career involves planning, administering, formulating & financing programs and training.

Other roles include staff supervision, setting and evaluating service delivery standards, and a range of other responsibilities.

You’ll find social workers in different facets of community life ranging from hospitals, schools, corporations, prisons, elected offices, and senior centers.

Social workers are also active in public & private agencies, mental health clinics, and the military. This reality points to the vast nature of the discipline with different specializations that cater to certain aspects of social life.

Examples of specializations in social work include advocacy & community organizing, administration & management, and child welfare.

Others include aging, health care, developmental disabilities, justice & corrections, international social work, and mental health & substance abuse.

Other social work specializations include mental health & clinical social work, policy & planning, and occupational & employee assistance program.

Specializations include politics, research, public welfare, and school social work.

ii. The Psychologist

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior or its processes.

Here, the mental states of both humans and animals are covered. Like social work, there are lots of psychology subfields that specialize in different aspects of human development.

This field helps treat emotional, cognitive, and social processes and behaviors in people.

Here, different groups of individuals, couples, and families are all considered during diagnosis. Through the use of specific tools and techniques, the psychologist can identify and address issues.

As stated earlier, there are several specializations in the field of psychology.

Examples include biopsychology, addiction psychology, cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, counseling psychology, environmental psychology, and educational psychology.

Specializations include health psychology, forensic psychology, organizational psychology, neuropsychology, school psychology, physiological psychology, sports psychology, and social psychology.

Engineering psychology, experimental psychology, and child development are among other specializations.

In order not to veer off from the main focus of the discussion, let’s return to the differences between social work and psychology. It has been necessary to provide some introduction to help with a better understanding of what these differences are.

How Social Work Differs from Psychology

There are several ways of differentiating social work from psychology.

These differences can be seen in the responsibility, the focus of training, and the areas or fields of specialization. While social workers mainly address many social problems, psychologists deal with the mental state.

Additional areas of comparison between the two include salary and career potential, licensing requirements, and education & training.

i. Responsibility

Regarding responsibility, social workers tend to have a much broader role in that societal problems are assessed and addressed in the best possible ways. These issues may be social, physical, mental, or economic.

Here, it’s clear that the scope of action for social workers is quite broad.

Psychologists, however, are trained to diagnose mental or behavior-related issues. Compared to social workers, the scope of coverage tends to be limited.

However, this doesn’t make psychology less valuable in any way. Like social work, it’s an essential field that addresses human issues.

ii. Areas of Specialization

We mentioned the areas of specialization in social work, including administration & management and child welfare.

Others include aging, health care, developmental disabilities, justice & corrections, international social work, and mental health & substance abuse.

These are pretty different from psychology.

Examples include health psychology, forensic psychology, organizational psychology, neuropsychology, school psychology, physiological psychology, sports psychology, and social psychology.

There are also engineering psychology, experimental psychology and child development, etc.

iii. Salary and Career Potential

Comparing the salary and career potentials between social workers and psychologists, psychologist tends to go home with better pay.

This notwithstanding, social work remains a gratifying profession for those within the field. The same applies to psychology.

Speaking of salary, how much do professionals in both professions earn, and what’s the difference in pay?

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released in 2020, the average salary for social workers was around $51,760 per year.

However, salaries increased by level of certification and experience. Per the report (BLS 2020), clinical social workers with certificates or licenses earned higher at around $64,210 per year.

Social workers earning the most salary get around $85,820 per year.

Compared to psychologists, the median income for professional psychologists is around $82,180 per year.

Clinical psychologists attract the most pay compared to clinical social workers. These professionals average around $105,780 per year. Those in the top 10% earn about $137,590.

Based on the data presented, it’s clear that psychologists tend to get better remuneration compared to social workers.

As a social worker, you have the opportunity to improve your salary by going for specialty credentials within your field. The same applies to psychologists.

According to the BLS, there are projections of an increase in demand for social workers over the next decade by about 13%. This is an opportunity for persons seeking to launch a career in this field.

Compared to psychologists, the career potentials of social workers tend to be more promising.

iv. Licensing Requirements

Licensing is a crucial requirement for both professions. Both social workers and psychologists must get the necessary licensing to practice.

There are regulatory boards that issue such licensing for each profession. However, it must be said that not all social workers or psychologists need a license to practice.

The licensing procedures differ for each profession. In the case of social workers, you’ll be required to undergo 3,000 hours of supervised post-graduate field experience.

That is in addition to scaling through the national clinical exam the Association of Social Work Boards issued.

The exam or test is structured so that you’ll need to answer about 170-questions on related topics. Passing all of these assessments qualifies you for licensing.

Unlike what’s obtainable for social workers, licensing requirements for psychologists tend to have higher standards.

For example, you may be required to possess one or more years of post-doctoral supervised experience. This is in addition to passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology EPPP.

These differences give you an idea of why psychologists earn higher than social workers. You won’t need to obtain a license for every role as a social worker.

Certain positions don’t require direct contact with clients. For these, no licensing is necessary.

v. Education & Training

Hands-on training will be required for social workers and psychologists to develop the right skills.

However, the types of training and processes involved may differ. To practice as a social worker, you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree in your preferred specialization.

Some subjects covered under the master’s program include social justice, sociology & community building, social systems & safety nets, advocacy & leadership, and clinical treatments.

You’ll also find different concentrations in social work to pick from. These include internship placements and practicum.

Psychology, on the other hand, offers training that fully equips professionals to support individuals dealing with mental health issues.

As stated earlier, there’s a longer path to becoming an accredited psychologist than being a certified social worker.

You’ll need a doctoral degree to commence clinical practice. This is a long and necessary path because you’ll spend as much as seven years completing the doctoral program.

Psychologists either obtain a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology).

Courses you may likely take while studying as a psychologist include ethics, psychological theory, psychological research, cognitive & affective bases of behavior, and assessment & treatment techniques.

These are the key differences between social work and psychology. So far, we’ve shown that while both are social science courses, they focus on different aspects.

We’ve identified differences in education & training, licensing requirements, salary & career potential, and an area of specialization.