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Clinical Social Worker Vs. Mental Health Counselor

Clinical social workers and mental health counselors are both mental health professionals who help their clients cope with both the stress of life and with mental illness. Read further to learn more about these important positions.

Career Overview

Mental health counselors and clinical social workers both help their clients to improve their mental health yet their jobs are not identical. The chart below shows the education requirements, job duties, and salary of mental health counselors vs. clinical social workers.

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree, depending on one's state (mental health counselor); master's degree (clinical social worker)
Licensing Required Requirement varies from state to state (mental health counselor); state-issued license mandatory (clinical social worker)
Additional Training Two years' supervised clinical experience (clinical social worker)
Testing Required Requirement varies from state to state (mental health counselor); clinical exam mandatory though exam itself varies from state to state (clinical social worker)
Certification Required National Board for Certified Counselors certification recommended but not required (mental health counselor)
Key Responsibilities Evaluate clients' mental health and develop appropriate treatment plans
Job Growth (2018-2028) 22% (substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors); 11% (social workers)*
Median Salary (2018) $44,630 (substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors); $49,470 (social workers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors aid their clients in coping with a wide variety of stressors and in developing effective coping mechanisms. Their scope of practice may not be limited to the client but may also encompass the client's family. This all depends on the needs of each client. Mental health counselors will also refer their clients to other services which are outside of their practice, such as support groups, more specialized mental health professionals such as clinical psychologists, or even job placement services in certain cases.

What Are the Job Duties of a Clinical Social Workers?

Clinical social work is a branch of social work which focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of emotional and behavioral disturbances as well as mental illnesses. They do this by maintaining relationships of mutual trust with their clients, evaluating the needs of their clients, and developing treatment plans to best aid their clients in maintaining or developing good mental health. Clinical social workers must also be able to recognize when they are not able to fulfill the needs of their clients and refer them to another mental health professional.

Who Do Mental Health Counselors Work With?

Mental health counselors treat people with a wide variety of conditions. These include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, and suicidality. They also help those who suffer from low self-esteem, are undergoing a period of stress, or are dealing with grief. Mental health counselors are capable of working with individuals from any demographic, though some will specialize in one section of the population, such as children, veterans, or the elderly.

Who Do Clinical Social Workers Work With?

Clinical social workers are trained to provide mental and behavioral healthcare to anyone. This includes individuals of any age and socioeconomic background. However, those who work for a state-run child protection agency may find themselves most often working with children and their families.

What Personal Traits Does One Need to Be a Mental Health Counselor or a Clinical Social Worker?

Mental health counselors and clinical social workers need to be compassionate, patient, and have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. Those who are coping with mental health issues need someone who can empathize with their situation and remain calm if they become distressed during an appointment. They also need someone who can listen to them and effectively communicate ways to cope with their problems.