What is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Social Worker?

Counselor and social worker are two terms that have a lot of different definitions. Some people are called social workers because of their jobs, but they may not have received the training required the state to provide counseling. A few social workers, particularly in state agencies, do not have advanced licenses or degrees but have been trained to perform certain tasks that the agency requires. Similarly, many people can call themselves counselors, even if they don’t have a psychology degree or aren’t licensed any specific agency. Religious, academic, and job counselors are among the many types of counselors who may be able to help people in limited circumstances, depending on their experience and training.

When people are looking for a licensed therapist, things change dramatically. A licensed therapist in this situation might be referred to as a specialized social worker, such as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), or a licensed therapist, such as a marriage and family therapist (MFT) or marriage, family, and child counselor (MFCC). Counselors can also work in a variety of other fields. Counselors are trained and equipped psychologists and psychiatrists, and they are licensed to do so.

In layman’s terms, this means that a licensed clinical social worker is qualified to counsel. They have master’s degrees in social work and have completed additional training in order to become licensed. Although not all LCSWs choose to work as therapists, any LCSW can do so. Most licensed counselors (MFTs and MFCCs) may not be able to refer to themselves as social workers unless they work in a setting where that title is automatically given. Certain professions are not available to an MFCC or MFT who is not a licensed social worker.

Some people inquire about this because they want to find the best therapist. Will a licensed social worker be more skilled than a counselor (MFT or MFCC)? This is a highly personal question. Some in the mental health field recommend that people seek out professionals with any of these titles who have a lot of experience for the best care. MFTs and LCSWs who have been in practice for a while will undoubtedly have had more opportunities to work with a diverse clientele.

Some mental health professionals advise people to avoid “counselors” who lack the necessary training or licensure to help them in difficult situations. Many people do, however, benefit from working with a spiritual or job counselor to address specific issues. Hopefully, that counselor has the ability to recognize when a client requires more assistance and the expertise of a licensed professional.

Last but not least, some people hold multiple licenses, which can lead to some misunderstanding when people are looking for a counselor. People who are both LCSWs and MFTs, for example, exist. Some people who work in churches or as education counselors are also licensed as MFTs, social workers, or even licensed psychologists. When looking for a suitable counselor, people should look for licensing, relevant experience, and conduct a few interviews to find someone with whom they feel at ease. In the end, the specific degree may be less important than the actual license, competency, and level of comfort in discussing sensitive topics.