If you are considering a counseling career, you might be wondering whether to pursue a degree in counseling or to become a licensed counseling social worker. Although the two degrees overlap somewhat, there are some marked differences in them. Both careers will require more than a baccalaureate degree to get an entry level job. The main difference is in the focus of the profession.
So, What is the Difference in Focus?
While counselors can sometimes diagnose and treat mental illness, their main focus is keeping clients healthy and functioning well in their environments. A licensed counseling social worker does that, too, but he also endeavors to adapt the environment to the people. For instance, they might counsel a special needs individual in coping with his feelings about a handicap, but they also may work with the employer to create a work space that is more friendly to a special needs worker. In that sense, a counseling social worker has a broad perspective of how to help a client, using his skill in counseling and his knowledge of other resources gained in social work. That is why counseling social workers are a good fit for rehabilitation programs that stress transitioning clients back into society.
Where Do They Work?
Both professional counselors and counseling social workers are employed by hospitals and medical facilities. In fact, you will be more actively engaged in direct counseling as a counselor or a counseling social worker than you would if your degree was in psychology or psychiatry. Most counselors and counseling social workers who work at hospitals or medical facilities function as team members working to devise a holistic patient treatment plan. Counselors might counsel a patient and his family in accepting his illness or condition, and the counseling social worker would also access resources to make an easier transition back home. They might also work with financial resources to help the family afford prostheses, durable medical equipment or even child care while the client is recuperating.
What is the Difference in the Degrees Needed and Licensing?
Counselors earn degrees in counseling, with diverse specialty areas. Counseling social workers earn social work degrees with emphasis on counseling. To practice, both need advanced degrees; social workers must graduate from programs accredited by CSWE. Licensure requires two-to-three years of experience working under the supervision of another professional after graduation. Licensed counseling social workers must have 3000 hours of supervised practice. Both counselors and social workers must sit for a comprehensive exam before becoming licensed. There may be other requisites as well, as licensing can differ by state.
If you are a person who likes to help others, and if you understand the nature of helping professions, you might be well suited for a counseling career. Keep in mind that both professional counselors and counseling social workers spend many years in school to prepare for their careers. The median wage for counselors in 2012 was just over $51,000. Salary for a LSW was just over $52,000. If your focus is broad, and you enjoy the challenge of fitting “many pieces of the puzzle together” to see a unified whole, you might decide to become a licensed counseling social worker.