Master's in Social Work Vs Master's in Clinical Psychology

Master's programs in social work and clinical psychology are both programs oriented in the well-being of those they help, but each program stands on its own merits offering differing skill sets from the other. This article highlights some similarities and differences between the two. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Comparing Master's Degrees in Social Work and Clinical Psychology

Master's Degree in Social Work

Social work focuses on social welfare and social justice and employs intervention, assessment, and treatment protocols to enhance the well-being of the individuals, families, and communities they represent. For admission, many colleges and universities require undergraduate studies that have some foundational liberal arts coursework, and/or a body of work and GPA that demonstrate the applicant's ability to succeed in master's level coursework in the social sciences. While they may work with a clinical psychologist as a part of treatment protocols, social work involves advocacy and strategic plans of a resolution involving individuals, families, groups, and communities versus the long-term and in-depth observation, analysis, and psychotherapy in psychology work. Aside from careers as social workers, graduates who pursue social work licensure may also find employment opportunities as clinical counselors.

Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology

A master's degree in clinical psychology is offered as a terminal degree that can lead to master's level state licensure (not the same as full licensure) or, for schools that don't offer terminal master's degrees, the master's in clinical psychology serves as a stepping stone to Ph.D. or PsyD programs. Depending on the college or university, students may need an undergraduate degree in the field of psychology or to have taken the Major Field Test in Psychology (MFT) within the last five years. Like social work, clinical psychology focuses on caring for individuals and families, but clinical psychologists are more concerned with assessing and treating mental and psychological illnesses and behavioral disorders. While both degrees can lead to work in counseling, a master's degree in clinical psychology can lead to clinical psychology research work or licensure to practice as a professional clinical counselor.

Degree Program Program Length Program Requirements Related Careers
Master of Social Work 1-2 years undergraduate degree *Hospital Social Worker
*Forensic Social Worker
Master's in Clinical Psychology 2-3 years undergraduate degree *Clinical Psychologist
*Forensic Psychologist

Courses Common to Master's in Social Work Degrees

Social work programs involve an interdisciplinary liberal arts approach to the social sciences, delivering a diverse range of coursework from gender and ethnic studies to policy and ethics courses. Programs range from 1-2 years with full-time study and with the advanced track options available at some schools.

Social Work Research

Social work research courses are likely offered in a series of two to three separate classes that build upon the information presented in the former. The courses in the series utilize scientific methodology and its application in interpreting and understanding research as it applies to social welfare and counseling, and more specifically how the application of this knowledge will help in the achievement of social justice for at-risk populations. Along with examining ethical issues in research, students may also learn study design and data collection in this first course.

Social Welfare Policy

Through the lens of this type of coursework, students begin to understand the relationship that exists between social welfare and social policy in the United States. An exploration is made into the values and philosophies that have been the driving force behind the creation and maintaining of social welfare in the states. Along with the social welfare programs and goals set forth for programs that have been developed, students may also learn just how policies are devised, and how social work can be influential in the creation and implementation of policies that relate, enhance, or detract from social work and social welfare programs.

Human Behavior and Social Environments

Using theory and empirical evidence to understand how social environments promote or hinder the advancement of individuals in their overall wellbeing is the focal point of human behavior and social environment classes. Dissecting social systems into their respective branches of individuals, families, organizations, groups, and communities and applying knowledge-based theories to their respective influence on the individual is within the context of this coursework. Students will likely learn about psychological and developmental theories as they apply to human development. This course is often offered in two-part sequences.

Courses Common to Master's in Clinical Psychology Degree Programs

Clinical psychology programs can take between 2-3 years to complete with full-time study. The breadth of coursework can be research-intensive with a heavy focus on statistical analysis.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology provides a thorough overview of the human lifespan from birth to death through a broad biopsychosocial perspective utilizing statistics, research and observational methods, and applying statistical analysis to understand developmental data. This coursework seeks to provide students with the knowledge necessary to anticipate and interpret the developmental needs of individuals throughout the numerous life stages. Applied knowledge from this coursework should enable students to appropriately utilize applicable research methods and ethical standards in developmental psychology.

Research Methods

Students will investigate various research designs such as experimental and quasi-experimental designs in research methods coursework. Along with exploring research methods, students will also apply multiple techniques of analysis from descriptive statistics, statistical inference, and correlational techniques. Successful completion of coursework should enable students to interpret research results, conduct basic analysis, and critically assess the advantages and disadvantages of different research designs.

Diversity in Psychotherapy

Ethnicity, culture, and geography are influences on human behavior. In order to deliver adequate psychotherapy, it is vital to understand various cultural perspectives and their effect on the individual's cognitive perspectives, attitudes, and actions. Students may review and evaluate psychological research from an urban, ethnic, socioeconomic, and global perspective in order to reach patients where they are within a sociocultural framework.

Social work seeks to mobilize social justice, social welfare, and well-being of people and communities they assist, while clinical psychology seeks to treat mental health and behavioral issues that can impede the individual's ability to thrive and function well in society and in relation to those close to them. Master's programs in social work and clinical psychology are both people-centered degree programs, and both degree programs are designed to provide graduates with the tools to improve the well-being of those they serve.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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