The Differences Between Social Work & Psychology

Although there are a lot of similarities between the professions of social work and psychology, there is a world of differences between the two.

On the surface, it would seem that both types of professionals, a psychologist or a social worker, have the same type of work: helping people.

However, what is key to understand is that while most of the time psychologists and social workers help people, it’s the way they help and the methodologies that they adopt in doing so that are completely different from each other.


The differences start with the actual professions. Namely, one is clinical psychology and the other is social work.

There are different branches of both of them and although social work differs from clinical psychology, it does have a further category called clinical social work.

Clinical social work has more in common with psychology than it has with social work. But here we will just discuss the differences between the work that psychologists do and the work that social workers carry out and how they are divergent.


The similarities between the two are merely superficial, but they are there. Both of these professions deal with people and involve a lot of interaction. They help people solve their problems.

Therefore, both these professions require people who are good at speaking, emotional intelligence, and have superior communication skills. 

They are both highly educated and know the different ways that they can use to increase the quality of someone’s life.

What is clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology used to be a pseudoscientific field, but ever since Freud presented his groundbreaking work it started to become a legitimate scientific area.

His work on psychoanalysis laid down the foundation of what clinical psychology is today.

From that knowledge and other knowledge gleaned over the years, clinical psychologists help their clients in different manners like identifying, diagnosing and solving various psychological disorders and similar symptoms. They guide their patients and help them to cope with these problems. 

There are various subcategories like psychotherapy. People recognise it more because it has the patient lying on the couch exactly according to the Freudian tradition, relaxing and going deep inside himself.

The psychologist asks the patients various questions and guides him by first bringing the problem to light and then helping the patient understand the root cause of the problem and how to eradicate it or control it.

The main characteristics of clinical psychology (or psychologists) would be:

  • They must have the latest knowledge and know about the theories in the field.
  • They must know how to implement that information by trying to identify, diagnose and solve the problems and give a solution to the patient.
  • They usually have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a few years of experience.

What is social work?

Although social work is also about connecting with the people and solving their problems, it is not just related to psychological factors.

It encompasses a whole variety of other factors that are affecting people and lowering their quality of life. To be a social worker, you need knowledge about not just psychology, but also the knowledge related to other fields like sociology, law, economics, among others.

It not only takes into account the individual’s mental status but also their physical status and their economic condition etc. Social workers also deal with group problems like families and communities. They counsel individuals as well as groups. 

So, as far as the psychologist goes, they tend to solve the ‘inner’ problems while social workers work on the inner problems as well as the ‘outer’ problems that the individuals are facing in their life. 

As a social worker, your job will be to provide relief to the individual that you are working with and improve their wellbeing in a holistic manner; meaning that you will have to work on different aspects of their life to give them overall relief.

You will also have to consult professionals from other fields like doctors, economists and others to bring about the change that you are working for.

The distinctive characteristics of social work are:

  • Social workers improve the quality of their clients’ overall life.
  • They need to have knowledge of a variety of fields like economics, health, sociology, psychology, and others.
  • They have to counsel their patients and guide them towards the ideal solution.
  • They may have to treat individuals as well as couples, groups, and communities.

The difference between clinical psychology and social work

Here are some of the major differences between a psychologist and a social worker:

1. The knowledge they must have

Psychologists need to be up to date with the latest information and knowledge about psychology and psychotherapy. They should be up to date with the latest studies that are being published in the renowned journals as well as the previous ones were done by the greatest psychologists and psychotherapists. 

A social worker needs to be up to date with the economic conditions of the area that they are working in and the socioeconomic status of the people.

They also need to have the latest and up to date knowledge about political sciences, sociology, law, psychology, and a host of other fields depending on the work that they do.

Their field encompasses a huge area where they work and they have to make sure that they don’t come up short.

2. The educational level and experience required

Psychologists have to study up till their doctorate level and need to have a couple of years of experience before they get to practice on their own.

Before that, they can assist some other psychologists and gain experience from their work.

Social workers can become professional after doing just their bachelor's or their master’s degree.

A lot of their learning is done on the job as they learn about the community that they work with, the problems that they face and how to help them.

3. The pay rates

Depending on the level of knowledge and the experience, the pay rates differ.

Usually, as the experience increases, the pay rates increase as well. 

4. The focus

Psychologists and psychotherapists focus on the “inner” problems of the patients and help them control these problems and live their lives in as much normalcy as possible.

These problems could be ADHD, PTSD, MPD, or any of the mental disorders that exist in the world today.

Social workers deal with the “outward” problems that are faced by an individual, a couple, a group, or a community. These “outward” issues might include lack of jobs, housing, living conditions, proper healthcare, economic instability, and much more.

Both these professionals have a different area of concern that they deal with.

While a psychologist’s area of concern is narrow and focused, the social worker’s area of interest is wide and encompasses many things.