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Exploring Psychology vs. Social Work

As you consider your educational and career paths, you may be wondering about the benefits of a degree in psychology versus social work. Both degree options can provide a highly rewarding career path, but it’s important to make an educated decision about the background and training required for each.

 Both credentials have the ability to prepare you for a rewarding role as a social service provider, empowering individuals to overcome mental illness and related issues.  However, there are also significant differences between the two specialty areas, so it is important to research both fields to determine which is the best fit for you.  Here are a few facts to consider:

  • Both fields are growing, with faster-than-average growth expected in the coming years
  • Both fields generally require licensure to practice
  • Social work calls for a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while psychology requires a doctoral degree
  • As of 2014, social workers outnumbered psychologists 4 to 1 in the United States
  • The median pay for social workers is around $46,000 annually; for psychologists, it’s about $72,500

Along with employment and education considerations, it’s important to evaluate the areas of focus for social work and psychology practitioners.

Social Work: Empowering Individuals and Strengthening Communities

Social workers operate in many realms, from child welfare to criminal justice to healthcare.  In each setting, the mission of social workers is to bring about social justice and individual well-being, especially among impoverished or marginalized populations.  While social workers gain a strong understanding of psychological, behavioral, and developmental principles through their studies, their skill set is expanded to include crisis intervention, welfare policy, and diversity awareness.  Social workers are knowledgeable about community resources, often connecting their clients with programs that can help them to succeed financially, physically, and emotionally even after individual treatment has ended.  In addition, graduates of master of social work programs (MSWs) often gain exposure to macro social work, which promotes transformation at the organizational and community levels. 

Psychology: Treating the Mind to Improve Mental Health

Psychologists interact with many of the same populations that social workers reach, but they work on a more individualized level to treat patients with mental health issues.  Psychologists spend many years studying all aspects of the field, learning how the mind operates in conjunction with social settings, culture, and biology.  They also study abnormal psychology, developing the skill set to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of mental illnesses.  Psychologists are trained to research, test, and treat individual patients in order to promote well-being and mental health.

Social Work versus Psychology: Which Field Is Right For You?

If you feel drawn to the mental health field, both professions offer advantages.  While psychology boasts a higher salary, it also requires more years of training and is very competitive in terms of degrees conferred on an annual basis.  Social work, to the contrary, offers growing career prospects in many fields, and most positions call for a master’s degree rather than the doctorate required to practice psychology. 

In terms of personal motivation, if you have a passion for social justice and empowerment – both on the individual and community levels – social work is the field for you.  If you are primarily interested in the functions of the mind, and in treating individuals with mental health challenges, psychology may be a better fit.

The Catholic University of America offers an online MSW degree that could be the perfect option for your educational and career pursuits.  To learn more about the social work field and the online MSW program, call 855-295-5711 or request more information.