Social Work vs Counseling: Career ROI

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: February 26, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

Find your perfect college degree

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Mental health counselors are crucial contributors to the management and treatment of psychological illnesses. These health professionals usually work with practitioners of other human services like social workers. 

While social workers and counselors both work to bring about positive social change, both professions complete this goal differently. Counselors generally provide therapeutic services to their customers. Social workers are more into guiding clients to the relevant services that will help improve their quality of life.  

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

A Quick Look at the Differences Between Social Work and Counseling

If you wish to have a career that entails helping people how to efficiently manage life’s challenges, becoming either a social worker or a counselor is the best option. These roles have significant differences in the tasks they perform and the education they earn.

By learning about their similarities and differences, you can easily decide on the right career path that you believe is suitable for you. 

Social WorkCounseling
Average Salaries$55,350$49,710
Job Growth7%, roughly 63,000 openings each year between 2022 and 203218%, roughly 42,000 openings each year between 2022 and 2032
Licenses/Certifications* Licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW)
* Licensed master social worker (LMSW)
* Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
* Licensed Professional Counselor by the American Counseling Association
Education Required* Bachelor’s Degree
* Master’s Degree
* Bachelor’s Degree
* Master’s Degree
* Doctorate Degree

The partnership between social workers and counselors is important for treating crucial mental health issues, including addiction and substance misuse. Without the help of social workers and counselors, this addiction could affect their mental health over time and hinder an opportunity maintain a good quality of life.

What is Social Work?

What is Social Work - Image

Social Work is a type of practice-based profession that promotes development, social change, cohesion, and the encouragement of people and communities. This field involves your understanding of behavior, human development, and the economic, social, and cultural interactions and institutions. 

Over the years, social workers have contributed significantly to society in areas that include:

For over 100 years, social work has been in the United States, with notable pioneers such as Frances Perkins, Jane Addams, Harry Hopkins, Whitney M. Young Jr., Jeannette Rankin, and Dorothy Height. 

What Does A Social Worker Do?

Human services employees doing different duties to help clients in addressing various issues are called social workers. These professionals also provide services that help clients deal with legal issues, health disparities, employment challenges, and other hindrances to social functionality.

Most social workers provide mental health care as one of their top services in a bid to improve the livelihood of their clients, although not everyone is up for such capacities. 

Social Work, as a field, also focuses on community and client advocacy. This includes creating sustainable and long-term care solutions and giving help to clients in accessing support systems to boost social wellness. 

Social Work Education and Career Paths 

An Associate in Social Work degree can get you started, introducing you to the basics of the discipline. However, to land relevant roles in the field, employers typically require a Bachelor’s in Social Work or any related field like Psychology. Social workers can later find any entry-level position.

By earning a Master’s in Social Work, you can apply for licensure in your state. Licensed social workers find roles in clinical or generalist social work. Depending on their state and license, some social workers are expected to complete a supervised experience or internship to learn the ins and outs of the job.

A Doctorate in Social Work is the academic path that boosts your academic skills toward career advancement. By pursuing either a Ph.D. in Social Work or a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW), you can become a top pick for leadership or executive positions in corporations or organizations requiring a high level of social work expertise.

The process of becoming a social worker generally differs in each state, although everybody is required to complete the fundamental steps. The first is to earn a social work degree. With a degree in the field, you can easily find clinical or nonclinical social work, depending on your license and degree. 

Social workers take on these jobs: 

A career in social work is for you if: 

A career in social work is not a great fit if: 

What is Counseling?

What is Counseling - Image

Counselors empower diverse individuals, groups, and families to accomplish wellness, education, mental health, and career goals. The American Counseling Association emphasizes the importance of counselor-client collaboration. Counselors work with clients to develop a more professional relationship that will help them go through and better deal with different issues.

Counseling has different specialties, with Addiction Counseling as a top option for would-be counselors. Depending on who you’re working with and where you work, you can employ group or individual counseling to help clients deal with certain issues like coping skills, communication, self-esteem, behavior change, goal setting, and behavior management. The main goal of the counselor is to work with their clients until the problem is finally resolved.

What Does A Counselor Do?

A counselor is an expert trained in helping people overcome their issues following a systematic chain of sessions. Depending on the client’s needs, the types of counseling vary. Counseling is considered a talking therapy as this allows clients to talk about their problems with trained counselors in a safe and peaceful ambiance. 

The role of a counselor is not limited to suggesting this or that. Instead, counselors support their clients by encouraging them to talk about their problems and assess the root cause behind these problems. Counselors also come up with an action plan to help clients cope with their problems or win over them. 

There are several formats through which a counseling session will take place. Counselors assess the situation and help clients determine the type that best suits their needs. The most popular counseling formats include:

Counseling services are offered wherever they are needed! Licensed counselors are in schools and colleges helping students deal with mental health. They are in corporate settings working alongside HR to assist employees who need good advice to deal with workplace issues or improve work performance. You will find counselors in health and clinical facilities, helping people recover from many forms of addiction.

Education and Career Path of Counselors

Counselors take on these jobs:

To become a counselor, you need to earn a Bachelor’s in Counseling degree. Alternative programs include Psychology and Human Services which lay the groundwork for further study. 

Once the bachelor’s degree is completed, you need to earn your master’s degree. The program must be Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)-accredited. 

You can complete the master’s degree in just two years, provided you attend full-time. Coursework revolves around Sociology, Psychology, and Research. Counseling techniques, statistics, and training of the type of counseling you plan to pursue. 

After completing the master’s degree, you need to earn supervised clinical experience. The type and how much experience required will vary by state. Finally, you become qualified to sit for state licensing exams, although most students opt to set aside this step to pursue their doctorate.

A career in counseling is for you if: 

A career in counseling is not a great fit if: 

Social Work vs Counseling - fact

Additional Information: