Students interested in a career providing therapy and counseling might be confused by the differences between a Master in Counseling and a Master of Social Work degree. The answer about which degree is right for you largely depends on your individual career goals and interests. Both degrees have a lot of offer, but here are some things to consider as you explore a career in mental health care.
A Master of Social Work (MSW) prepares students for a leadership role in the care and advocacy of clients that may include individuals, families, organizations and communities. An MSW degree provides the skills needed to perform clinical assessments, advocate for entitlements, provide education and resources, offer clinical counseling and manage a large caseload of complex cases. MSW graduates understand the requirements of a supervisory role, direct clinical programs and serve on community committees and develop social welfare policies.
The Master of Social Work offers coursework in clinical practice, social administration, public policy, research and ethics. An MSW degree can lead to many different career paths in the public health and the medical field, nonprofit organizations or government programs that address public needs. Social workers are also taught the skills and theories to challenge social injustice and change systems of care.
A Master in Counseling will prepare you for a variety of counseling options including marriage and family therapy, rehabilitation counseling, vocational counseling, mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling. Students in Master in Counseling degree programs study counseling theories and techniques, psychological testing, ethics, research, cultural perspectives and psychological development.
There is an overlap between the Master in Counseling and Master of Social Work degrees. Both degrees require state licensure and will give you the skills to provide one-on-one counseling to people in need. These degree programs also require a minimum number of hours of supervised field instruction in an area of primary interest. One of the main differences between the two disciplines is that counselors focus on helping individuals and families who have a specific set of problems or need treatment for a mental health disorder, while social workers are involved in providing a wider range of services within larger social service systems.
As an example of the difference between the roles of a counselor and social worker, consider the case of a family that is dealing with the terminal illness of a family member. A counselor will focus on helping the family members accept and deal with their feelings about the situation. A social worker may provide therapy and also refer the family to hospice care, work with a caregiver's employer to arrange time away from work and help the family with financial issues. Social workers have a broader understanding of the many systems and community factors that influence the needs and conditions of their clients.
The number of jobs in both social work and counseling are expected to grow over the next decade. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that the demand for social workers will grow by 25 percent through 2020, faster than average for all occupations. Job growth will be fueled by an increased demand for health care and social services. The handbook also forecasts an increasing demand for education and vocational counselors, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and mental health counselors.
So which ever degree program you choose, knowing the differences between the two degrees and a clear idea of your career goals will help you make the right choice for your future.