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Should I go for social work or counseling?

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by cocopepper, Aug 18, 2017.

  1. cocopepper


    Aug 18, 2017
    I could use opinions on whether to pursue a masters in social work (department of health) or counseling (department of education). I've been out of the work force for awhile raising my family. I have an MA in anthropology and prior experience teaching at the university level. I know I'd like to be a therapist, and preferably one day self-employed. I also think it'd be cool to teach again at the college level. My local university offers the two above-listed programs. I met with reps from both departments and both were very friendly. The head of the counseling program recommended I go into school counseling, as doing so would allow me access to both school jobs and private practice. Both programs are 2 year and cohort-based. I like the counseling program because it's very clinical. Apparently we start counseling clients the 1st semester! I like the possibility of grade-school employment. OTOH, I prefer the SW program because it's in the health sciences department which seems like it might be respected more in terms of offering therapy. Is that right? Overall, the department seems more academic and scholarly, which I also like. The problem is, the program isn't clinical at all. Which means after two years, I'll have a degree, but no experience counseling anyone. How do I obtain that experience? How much more formal education will I require in order to offer therapy? I'd love some insight into this. Thanks!
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  3. cocopepper


    Aug 18, 2017
    I have a follow-up question. I plan to take a course this semester as a non-degree seeking student. I hoping to learn something, as well as procure a timely reference for my application. Here are my options. Which would you choose?

    1. Assessment and The DSM (Social Work elective)
    2. Intro to Research (Counts toward to counseling program)
    3. Fundamentals of Counseling (wouldn't count toward anything, though the head of the counseling dept mentioned that it would help me in the admissions interview process.
  4. foreverbull

    foreverbull 2+ Year Member

    Sep 8, 2015
    If therapy is your thing, counseling is a better training route. More comprehensive counseling training than SW, which has a different foundation/training. Not sure why you think SW is respected more for therapy; it's not therapy training per se, but social work training with a clinical component. Social workers I worked with didn't do therapy like the counseling clinicians did at my past non-profit; they did problem-solving stuff/short checkins and did more connecting with community resources and setting them up for clients. Master's in counseling is better therapy preparation, even though both can do therapy. Any doctoral program consideration, which would provide the highest level of training for therapy?

    Teaching at the college level might be trickier with just a master's if you're in competition with doctoral level practitioners for teaching jobs, but community colleges would be a good option. Just something to think about.

    I'd pick Fundamentals of Counseling if that's what you're wanting to do, anyway...maybe it'll give you a better sense of what to expect.
  5. wtfook

    wtfook 2+ Year Member

    Dec 29, 2015
    I would say it depends on the state you live in. In some states (Cali for example), a counseling masters is relatively new and so it's harder to get licensed and practice therapy with it than a social work masters. In other states, like Pennsylvania where I worked as a master's level clinician, it's equal. I shared the same internship opportunities as social work students and the clinic I worked at employed people with both degrees for the same clinical positions (including clinical supervisors). I think if you're looking to ONLY practice, then a master's level degree is fine. Once you're licensed, you can make a steady and solid income. Which one to go with I'd say would depend on where you live and what programs are available to you. I'd check out the curriculums and go from there, maybe even email some people. Generally speaking, counseling programs are specifically therapy focused where as social work programs are specifically for social work and NOT counseling. So you would need to do a clinical focus within your social work program, which means you won't necessarily get the same academic preparation in therapy as someone in a counseling program. I know you said you already looked at one place that had both programs. If you actually want to practice, I'd go with the program that actually gives you clinical training. Otherwise, you won't get hired out of grad school. There isn't really a difference in prestige between programs. Employers are looking to see who has the most rigorous training and that's most definitely going to be the program that gives you actual clinical experience to put on your resume.

    If you go the school counseling route, it usually means you take the exact same classes as people who do the clinical route and then maybe 2-3 extra classes that are specific for the school setting. You can then obtain a school counseling certificate which will allow you to practice in schools. This certificate, however, is NOT equal to licensure in counseling (LPC) or licensure in clinical social work (LCSW). The school counseling cert is much easier to obtain and doesn't require 3000 hours of supervised training post-master's. If you want the option of working in both school and clinical settings, you'd probably want both. Schools are sometimes ok with hiring people who don't have a school cert but are licensed. It's not necessarily as flexible the other way around. Many more full-time positions only hire you after licensure.

    As for teaching opportunities, you could probably get hired as an adjunct in many master's programs for social work and counseling. It's at least a common practice on the east coast where I applied for master's programs in counseling. In my own program and in others I knew of, core classes such as family therapy or foundations in counseling were sometimes taught by adjunct faculty who practiced within the community. They weren't always academics. Often times it's meant to save money (adjuncts are cheaper than tenure track professors). So if you're really interested in teaching, there are possibilities.
  6. CompleteUnknown


    Jun 12, 2016
    As mentioned above, social work tends to focuses more on case management (e.g., finding resources, connecting client with those resources, following-up on appointments/paperwork/medications) and systems-level interventions in addition to more straight-forward, one-on-one counseling/therapy. Counseling as a field degree (Masters or PhD/PsyD) will focus almost solely on enhancing an individual's mental health via one-on-one, family, or group therapy. These are really broad generalizations but in general those are the core differences.

    If you want clinical experience, it sounds like the counseling program you're considering seems like a better fit. Try not to get sucked into programs because they seem more "prestigious", fancy, etc. If the counseling program is accredited appropriately and has decent outcome results (e.g., Do their students graduate? What do student go on to do after graduation?) then go for it! Good fit with a program's training is paramount. Match up your career goals with a program that will give you the skills and knowledge to reach those goals!

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