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

For those who are pursuing a career in social work, it can be initially pretty hard to determine the key differences between a non-clinical social worker and a clinical social worker. Though both of these positions share the same "social worker" roots, they're actually quite different in their overall requirements, daily duties, and even licensure processes. This means that social workers must fully consider their educational path, their state of residence, their licensure, and even their own interests, when they consider the type of job and environment that they will pursue as part of their career. Before choosing either side of this popular profession, be sure to understand the unique characteristics of both clinical and non-clinical social work.

Non-Clinical Social Work: A Primer On The Industry

A non-clinical social worker typically works in a private capacity, perhaps with a social work firm, in the corporate world, a nonprofit, or a charitable organization. They're often required only to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, which is actually significantly less education than is typically required of a social worker in a clinical setting. Because they're less highly educated and a bit more versatile by definition, social workers who choose a non-clinical occupation can be placed in a variety of settings where they help their clients with key tasks or common issues.

Many social workers who participate in non-clinical work provide services such as job and career counseling, educational counseling, or after-school services. They may work in troubled communities to eliminate key social problems, or they may work for state and federal agencies. In the public sector, non-clinical social workers may work on things like welfare policy and social assistance. They may provide rehabilitation services or consult with companies that seek to offer rehabilitation to those with substance abuse problems, anger management issues, and other common issues.

Clinical Social Work: A Higher-Stakes Profession with Greater Requirements

While non-clinical social workers are often free to start a new position without an advanced degree, those who wish to work in a clinical capacity must have at least a master's degree in social work in order to get the job. An MSW gives clinical social workers the right combination of advanced counseling and support skills, as well as medical knowledge that can be essential in some of the professionals that fall under the clinical umbrella. Clinical social workers will typically need to be fully licensed at the state level to perform clinical services, and this may require dual licenses in some states.

Once these requirements have been met, clinical social workers are free to pursue jobs in this niche industry. These jobs include substance abuse counseling and support, addressing child or spousal abuse, handling divorce, and working with victimized children who may need the right combination of support, medical assistance, and long-term treatment. These high-stakes jobs can often determine the fate of substance abusers, children, and their families, and for this reason are far more rigorous in terms of education, standards, performance assessment, and ongoing licensure requirements.

Big Differences, But a Mutual Desire to Help Those in Need

Social workers of all kinds choose their profession because they have a desire to guide, to help, and to overcome. Working as a non-clinical social worker and a clinical social worker means listening, responding, and knowing the right areas to seek long-term help for clients in need.