Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor

The main difference between social worker and counselor is that a social worker is a professional who aims at alleviating the conditions of people who are in a mentalphysical, economic, or social disadvantage whereas a counselor is a professional who aims at giving psychological assistance to people.

Therefore, a social worker attempts to elevate the living conditions of people through an overall social change whereas a counselor attempts to elevate the living conditions of people by providing the necessary psychological assistance to them. Since social work involves counseling as a part of their overall target at creating social change, there are several confusions among people whether a social worker and counselor mean the same person. Thus, social worker encompasses many fields including counseling, but a counselor is essentially trained to give counseling support to clients.

Key Areas Covered

1. Who is a Social Worker
     – Definition, Role, Work
2. Who is a Counselor
     – Definition, Role, Work
3. What is the Similarity Between Social Worker and Counselor
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Professions, Psychology, Counselor, Social Work, Sociology

Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor- Comparison Summary

Who is a Social Worker

A social worker is primarily “a person who is trained to help people who are in a mental, physical, economic, or social disadvantage.”. Hence the field of social work encompasses many categories such as providing mental support, providing economic support, working to minimize social disadvantages in several communities and eventually ensuring the people in the community lead a happy and peaceful life.

Moreover, social work uses social sciences such as sociologypsychology, political science, public health, community development, law, and economics, to engage with client systems, conduct assessments, and finally to develop interventions in order to solve social and personal problems. All these steps contribute to creating social change. 

The history of social work goes back to several individual efforts by Helen Bosanquet, Octavia Hill and Jane Addams in 1889. Hence, they considered the pioneering figures in the field of social work, and similarly, their ideologies and values later became the fundamentals for the profession of social work. 

Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor

Figure 1: Social Worker

The International Federation of Social Workers defines social work as “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.”  

Thus, a social worker is someone who is trained to support the people under all these circumstances. The practice of social workers is categorized as

  • micro-work – involve working directly with individuals or small groups
  • macro-work – involve working with communities, and within social policy, to create change on a larger scale.

Accordingly, social workers engage themselves in varied sectors such as in healthcare, education, legal sectors (police departments, court systems etc.), varied public and private sectors (business etc.).

Therefore, social work is an interdisciplinary profession that roots from a number of areas such as (but not limited to) psychology, sociology, politics, law, philosophy, economics, ecology, criminology, education, health, and anthropology. Even though most social workers often provide mental healthcare support to people, they also assist the people in other life conditions such as counseling, psychotherapy, charity work, etc.

Generally, social workers have at least a bachelor’s degree and a Masters degree from an accredited education program, and in most states, they must be licensed, certified, or registered.

Who is a Counselor

Counselor is a specifically trained professional to give mental or psychological support by advising people who have related personal or psychological issues. Thus, a counselor is a person trained to give guidance on personal or psychological problems.

The main aim of couseling is to help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil. Therefore, it endeavors to improve communication and coping skills, strengthen their self-esteem, and promote behavior change and mental health.

In order to provide emotional support to clients, counselors use different mechanisms such as interviews, counseling sessions, and interest assessment tests.

Therefore, counselors are directly related to providing psychological assistance to people. Usually, counseling is a long and a continuous process with several stages, and it is terminated when the problem the client pursued counseling for is resolved or becomes more manageable.

Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor

Figure 2: Counselor

Moreover, there are also several types of counselors according to their specialized fields: school counselors, vocational counselors, rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors, substance abuse and behavioral counselors (for people who have negative addictions such as drug, alcohol, etc.)

Moreover, as a social worker, a counselor by profession should have acadmic qualifications, and they should be licensed, certified, or registered to practice as a professional counselor.

Similarity Between Social Worker and Counselor

Since social worker aims largely to create social change, counseling is included as a part of their profession. Therefore, at one rate both a social worker and counselor may do the task of counseling to the people.

Difference Between Social Worker and Counselor


A social worker is a professional trained to help people who are at a mental, physical, economic, or social disadvantage. A counselor, however, is a professional trained to give guidance by advising them to overcome their personal or psychological problems.


Since the main aim of social work is to provide social assistance, social workers do various services to such as providing health care and psychological assistance, guiding people in their legal matters, working towards mitigating abuse and social deprivations, assistance in economic hardships, etc. Counselors, on the other hand, primarily work to provide personal or psychological assistance to people in order to overcome their mental turmoils.


A social worker provides social assistance including health, psychology, financial, legal, etc. while a counselor primarily provides psychological assistance. Therefore, the difference between social worker and counselor is in the main aim of work they do and thus, the assistance they provide.


Social workers are often employed in healthcare sectors, charity organizations such as Redcross, education sectors, private and public organizations such as businesses. Counselors are also employed in healthcare sectors (especially mental assistance centers), education sectors (for student counseling centers) vocational centers (providing career counseling), legal sectors (especially for rehabilitating purposes), etc.


Social worker and counselor are two very significant professionals in the society. They both aim at elevating the living conditions of people in different ways. Social workers work on a number of scenarios (healthcare, psychology, financial, legal, etc.) so that it creates an overall social change while a counselor necessarily assists people to overcome their personal or psychological problems. Hence, this is the main difference between social worker and counselor.


1. Gibelman, Margaret. “The Search for Identity: Defining Social Work—Past, Present, Future.” Social Work 44, no.4. (1999).
2. “Social Workers.” Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, Available here.
3. “Social Work.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018, Available here.
4. “Counselors – What Do Counselors Do?” StudentScholarships.org, Available here.
5. “What Is Professional Counseling?” ACA (WEBusage), ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Hunger Charity Work Social Work” (CC0) via Max Pixel
2. “MANNA Counseling” By Kendl123 – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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