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Understanding the Difference Between a Master’s in Counseling and a Master's in Social Work

Posted by Francesca Reed on Mar 29, 2019, 9:51:36 AM

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Smiling professional with a masters in counseling helps a couple

With growing awareness about the importance of mental health, both mid-career professionals and recent graduates are looking to return to school and pursue a graduate degree in a field related to mental health. Often students find themselves wanting to know the real difference between a master’s degree in counseling and a master of social work degree and are thinking — what really is the difference between these two graduate degrees?

The two mission-driven graduate programs share some overlap but also have important differences that are necessary to consider when choosing between the two graduate degrees. Many factors play a role in deciding which path to take, so we have highlighted and explained a few areas of difference to make your decision easier.

What is a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling?

Marymount University offers an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, an M.A. in Pastoral Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and an M.A. in School Counseling. These graduate degrees in Counseling prepare individuals to enter their chosen field with the knowledge and tools necessary to make a lasting impact in the lives of the clients they serve.

The bedrock of these programs is a focus on individual and group counseling skills, tests and measurements, research methods and design, human growth and development, career development, counseling theory, diagnosis and treatment, multicultural counseling, and ethical issues in counseling.

After completing a Marymount Counseling program, graduates will be prepared to work with clients to help them identify and root out negative behaviors, develop coping mechanisms to handle stressors in their lives, and increase holistic personal wellness.

In addition to coursework, graduates of a Marymount Counseling program will also be required to complete state licensure requirements and perform a certain number of residency hours to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).  

Are you thinking about what it would mean to pursue an advanced counseling  degree? Marymount offers an M.A. in Counseling and is prepared to provide  students with the skills needed to thrive in the field of counseling. We invite  you to download our free resource: A Guide to Getting a Master's in Counseling!


What is a graduate degree in social work?

A graduate degree in social work prepares individuals to help clients with a range of problems or needs. Coursework for this graduate degree includes studies on human behavior, social systems, influencing social policies, application of principles, theory, and technology, and research methods.

A special group of social workers, Clinical Social Workers, can provide mental health services or psychotherapy for their client, although this is not the main service provided in the profession. Social workers help their clients by acting as an advocate for them. They will often coordinate with outside services to assist them. This ranges from medical needs and services, to educational, occupational, mental health, disability, and services for the necessities of everyday life.

Understanding the difference between counseling and social work career opportunities:

With an M.A. in counseling, graduates are able to step into many careers including but not limited to: mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, school counselor, substance abuse or addiction counselor, behavioral therapist, and pastoral counselor.

With a master of social work, you can begin a career in a variety of environments including: mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices.

Uncovering the difference between counseling and social work career outlook:

In 2016 the median salary for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists with a graduate degree was $44,170 per year. The counseling field is supposed to see a 19 percent increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024. This is much faster than the average 7 percent growth rate.

In 2016 the median salary for social workers was $46,890 per year. This career is supposed to see a 12 percent increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024, which is also faster than the average growth rate

However —“Mental health counselors also earn slightly more money per counseling session than clinical social workers, according to the American Mental Health Counselors Association."

Unpacking the difference between a master's in counseling and a master's in social work:

The coursework undertaken while pursuing a master’s in counseling or social work will inevitably have some overlap because both are preparing you for a career at the center of the mental health field.

The greatest difference between these two degrees is in their practical application in the field. Counselors work with clients to help them cope with their illnesses, stressors, and maladaptive behaviors, in an effort to thrive in their normal everyday environment. Social workers often help change their client’s everyday environment to provide them with the services they need to thrive.

Hear from a Marymount Counseling degree student:

William (Billy) Butler, a Counseling student slated to graduate in 2017, gives some insight into why he chose to enroll in Marymount’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program.

“I chose Marymount’s CMHC program because it focuses on the student’s professional growth from a holistic perspective. Through research and word of mouth, I found out their CACREP-accredited program has an excellent reputation for being a top counseling program in the United States that prepares students for licensure and to be successful in their internship. Since my undergraduate degree was from a large university, I chose MU because of the small class size and personal attention. During study abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, I was able to make a presentation internationally, immerse myself in the European counseling culture, and network with counseling professionals abroad."

Are you ready to join the Marymount community and enroll in a Marymount Counseling program?

Pursuing a career in counseling isn't for the faint of heart. But if you're passionate about helping others and want to pursue a career in the mental health field, we invite you to request more information from Marymount University today. Your career as a mission-driven, results-oriented clinical mental health counseling could be your next professional venture!

If you think a career in counseling may be the direction you want to take your career, the Admissions Team here at Marymount hopes you’ll join us at an on-campus or webinar event!

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Posted by Francesca Reed

Fran has been working in Enrollment Management for over 16 years. Fran currently serves as the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at Marymount University. In her free time, Fran enjoys traveling, watching her boys play sports, running and spending time with her family.

Topics: Counseling Programs

About this blog

This blog is intended to help busy working professionals and recent college graduates to be informed about graduate school options. We explore various academic disciplines, professional development opportunities, and industry trends related to graduate education.

From what to look for in a graduate program to how to balance life, school and everywhere in between, we hope that our tips and advice will help you end up at the right school, in the right program, and at the right time.

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