Difference Between Social Worker and Psychologist

The main difference between social worker and psychologist is that a social worker aims at creating an overall social change whereas a psychologist aims at giving psychological assistance to people.

Interacting with varied people in a diverse society is challenging. We face many obstacles throughout our lives, and the assistance of a third party becomes a necessity in these times. Social workers and psychologists are two such necessary personnel who works to elevate the living conditions of the people in different ways. A social worker is someone who is trained to alleviate the conditions of people who are at a mental, physical, economic, or social disadvantage while a psychologist is specifically trained to alleviate the psychological conditions of people.

Key Areas Covered

1. Who is a Social Worker
     – Definition, Role, Subjects
2. Who is a Psychologist
     – Definition, Role, Subjects
3. What is the Difference Between Social Worker and Psychologist
      – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Assistance, Careers, Community Work, Professions, Social Worker, Psychologist

Difference Between Social Worker and Psychologist - Comparison Summary

Who is a Social Worker

A social worker is a person who is trained to help mentally, physically, economically or socially disadvantaged people. Thus, the career scope of a social worker is wider than that of a psychologist.

As the International Federation of Social Workers defines social work, it 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.”

Accordingly, the profession of social work stems from psychology, sociology, politics, criminology, economics, ecology, education, health, law, philosophy, anthropology, and counseling, including psychotherapy. Even though most social workers often provide mental healthcare support to people, they also assist people with other aspects such as counseling, psychotherapy, charity work, etc.

Main Difference - Social Worker vs Psychologist

Figure 1: Social Work

Generally, social workers should 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 Psychologist

A psychologist is someone who studies the mind and behavior. Thus, they can assist people who suffer from psychological problems in order to overcome them. Accordingly, a psychologist studies normal and abnormal psychological behaviors and mental states of people ranging from their cognitive, emotional and social processes. This is done by observing, interpreting, recording and eventually analyzing how these individuals relate to one another according to their surroundings. Hence, psychologists mainly practice within two general categories as Applied Psychology (including practitioners or professionals) and Research-Oriented Psychology (including scientists or scholars).

Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov, and Carl Jung are some famous psychologists. They made pioneering discoveries in the field of psychology, such as analytical psychology and behaviorism. There are mainly three types of psychologists:

  • Applied Psychologists: Psychologists who utilize the psychological principles and research to solve real-world problems. These types of psychologists include aviation psychologists, engineering psychologists, industrial-organizational psychologists, and human factors psychologists, etc.
  • Research Psychologists: Psychologists who experiment and do other related studies about behavior with human or animal participants. These professionals work in education and other health-related
  • Mental Health Psychologists: Psychologists who work to solve the mental disorder or psychological distress of people. They provide counseling and often work in educational and other health-related places such as hospitals, etc. They are known by several names as clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, and school psychologists, etc.

In order to practice as a professional psychologist, one should have a graduate degree (with or without) a Master degree or even a Doctorate. In addition to the professional training, they have to get as acclaimed by the American Psychological Association (APA). Thus, these practicing psychologists have the professional training and clinical skills to help people learn to cope more effectively with life issues and mental health problems. 

Difference Between Social Worker and Psychologist

Figure 3: Psychologist

Many psychologists are trained in clinical psychology, which involves specialized training in mental health problems and psychological problems. Clinical psychologists can also specialize in the forensic, neuropsychological or educational fields.

Similarities Between Social Worker and Psychologist

  • Both these professionals are aware of the fundamentals of the field of psychology
  • At some point in the social worker’s career, they may also provide psychological support to individuals though not that qualified as a psychologist.

Difference Between Social Worker and Psychologist


A social worker is a professional trained to help mentally, physically, economically or socially disadvantaged people. On the other hand,  a psychologist is a professional trained to treat mental health problems and other psychological issues related to human behavior.

Specialisation or Subjects

Social workers are specialized in diverse fields (sociology, psychology, political science, public health, community development, law, economics etc.) that relate to promoting a change in the society. However, a psychologist specializes in the treatment of mental health problems and human behavior; thus fields like behaviorism, clinical psychology, neuropsychology, education,  forensics, etc. are mastered by psychologists. 


Responsibility wise, while a social worker has a wider responsibility that eventually aims at helping people to solve their problems relating to physical, social, economic, legal as well as mental issues, the prime responsibility of a psychologist is to help people to overcome and solve their mental or behavior-related problems. This is the main difference between social worker and psychologist.


Social worker and psychologist are among well-admired professions related to individual and social well-being in a society. Social worker is a professional who works to alleviate the living conditions of people, specifically by helping those who are at a mental, physical, economic, or social disadvantage. Hence, they eventually aim at creating an overall social change. On the other hand, a psychologist is a professional who treats the mental health problems and other psychological issues related to human behaviour. This is the difference between social worker and psychologist.


1. “Monitor on Psychology”, American Psychological Association, July 2014, Available here.
2. Cherry, Kendra. “What’s It Like to Be a Psychologist?” Verywell Mind, Verywellmind, 14 Aug. 2014, Available here.
3. “Social Workers.” Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, Available here.
4. “Social Work.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Children Voluntary Child Help Charity” (CC0) via Max Pixel
2. “Talk Of A Psychologist” (CC0) via Public Domain Pictures

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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