Counsellors and social workers aim to help people deal with the challenges they face in their lives. Due to a lack of awareness, many people confuse the roles and find it hard to define them. After all, they both provide human services. There can also be some degree of overlap if the client a registered counsellor is working with is also engaged with social services.
If you’re looking to become a counsellor or a social worker, you’ll likely be weighing up the nature of the roles to determine which will be the right fit for you.
While on the surface of things they may appear similar, they are distinct professions that operate independently. With key differences stemming from the nature of their work, all the way to entry requirements, job and progression opportunities.
Nature of Their Work
Many people wonder ‘what does a social worker do?’, and the answer is social workers work with third parties to provide social services. They’ll use a person-centred approach to listen to the client to understand their thoughts and feelings about what they want. They will ask questions and provide advice and signposting, but they don’t deliver counselling services.
The role of social workers is to help people gain access to the social services they need. A social worker assists them with their current circumstances and provides multi-disciplinary support to help the individual achieve their chosen goals. Their aim is to help the individual receiving social work support to maintain their independence in a safe and stable environment.
As many people can require their help, the roles and responsibilities of a social worker vary depending on who they are assisting. Social workers can support anyone from children and young people to adults and older people with issues ranging from abuse and neglect, to individuals with physical disabilities or mental health issues.
Unlike registered counsellors, social workers meet with individuals in their homes or other safe settings to assess their situation and needs. They then work with relevant third parties to develop care plans which provide the support that will help the person achieve their identified goals.
If you’re asking yourself ‘what is the role of a counsellor?’, a registered counsellor works directly with their clients to help them address their mental health issues. Qualified counsellors provide the means for counselling clients to look at their values, core beliefs and help them explore their behaviour patterns.
In doing so they can choose to change their behaviour and achieve some degree of mental wellness. Although, counselling clients may need additional support to help them develop the appropriate coping mechanisms.
In training, trainee counsellors learn a number of therapeutic techniques, including marriage and couple’s therapy, family therapy, rehabilitation and vocational guidance. In some instances, trainee counsellors also receive training in forms of psychotherapy to enhance their services.
Qualified counsellors can work with any number of issues, from people with mental health issues to education, career, and development. Many counsellors will choose an area in which they’ll specialise, to focus their efforts and become an authority of guidance.
Education and Qualifications
Anyone researching how to become a social worker should know that social workers require at least an honours, if not a postgraduate degree in social work, approved by Social Work England.
Generally, undergraduate social worker degrees UK are full-time for three years, and postgraduate social worker qualifications are full-time for two years. To get onto a postgraduate course, you’ll need to have work experience in a social work or social care setting.
Both levels of social work courses include a practical element. This is generally supervised social worker training placements that can be up to seven hours a day, running over 200 days.
Once you become a newly qualified social worker, you must register with Social Work England and renew your registration every year. This requires ongoing training through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
To start moving towards becoming a social worker, you can study an Access to Higher Education Diploma (Social Work) that enables you to study social worker qualifications at university.
If you’re wondering how to become a counsellor, UK, this doesn’t require a degree. You can get into counselling jobs through on-the-job training, college counselling courses or by volunteering. However, most employers will want you to have professional clinical counsellor training and be a member of a professional body, and for that you’ll need a counselling qualification at foundation degree/diploma level.
Having professional membership means you meet a certain level of standards and work in accordance with a set code of ethics. Once you become a registered counsellor, you’ll also need to complete CPD courses, but you’ll have to plan, record and reflect on the activities within each to demonstrate your learning. Plus, you’ll be supervised within practice to enhance your skills, then present your client work to the counselling supervisor and openly reflect on the therapy process.
You can study many counselling courses online that allow you to work towards professional body membership.
Newly qualified social worker jobs are available in most areas, but this can depend on the size of the local population and the social work specialism you’ve chosen. Generally, social workers are employed by:
- Children’s homes
- GP practices
- Hospitals and hospices
- Primary care and health service trusts
- Private sector nursing homes
- Social service departments of local authorities in England and Wales
- Voluntary and independent agencies
Newly qualified counsellors can have a harder time finding positions since few counselling jobs are offered full-time. More often counselling jobs are part-time or combined with other duties such as teaching, nursing or advisory work.
Counsellors are employed in:
- Children’s centres
- Citizen’s advice bureaus
- Education settings
- Faith-based organisations
- Health care settings
- HR departments
- Specialised telephone helplines
- Statutory and voluntary sector care agencies
- Youth services and agencies
Salary wise, for both roles this can depend on your employer, location, specialism, skills and experience.
A newly qualified social worker salary, UK, can be between £24,000 and £30,000 per year, and go up to £40,000 with further responsibilities and experience. You can then earn more with a senior social worker salary in roles like a team or commissioning manager.
An entry-level counsellor salary, UK, can be anywhere between £20,000 to £26,000, though this can vary. Again, with more experience counsellors can get up to £40,000, with specialist and senior counselling jobs commanding even higher wages.
Social workers split their time between an office and visiting clients in their homes or accommodation. It can mean trips to care homes and hospitals too, so you’ll need to be able to drive.
Counsellors, on the other hand, are generally office-based. You typically work with clients one to one but working with families, couples and groups is not uncommon. Counselling services can be offered via phone, by video calling services or online. Sometimes counsellors may even be required to do outbound visits, where you could work in hospitals and GP surgeries, schools, charities and addiction organisations or workplaces.
Once qualified and trained, social workers can move into several roles helping particular areas, including:
- Day-care social worker
- Healthcare social worker
- Homelessness officer
- Mental health social worker
You can gain more skills and further responsibilities as a social worker by specialising in another area. Or you can progress in your career by taking a more senior role within your area. Though, senior social work roles generally remove you from hands-on work.
With 3-5 years experience, you can become a senior practitioner, team leader or care manager. Or you could become a practice educator, where you would oversee social work students and newer members of staff.
Progression routes for a counsellor would also include specialising in particular case types. Providing expert assistance in cases related to mental health, bereavement or family therapy. Or you could pursue counselling management roles that take you out of client work and more into training, strategy and supervision.
Otherwise, you could become a self-employed counsellor and establish your own practice and client base.
Start Your Learning Today
If you’re considering becoming a social worker or you want to become a counsellor, we can help you get there with an online course. Our Access to Higher Education Diplomas offer an alternate qualification to A Levels. Allowing you to study counselling or social work at university and gain a relevant degree.
Our Access to HE Diploma (Social Work) would be an excellent starting point for either job. As it introduces you to the system and the many challenges that people can face. You’ll learn essential skills that you can take onto further study and into your future career.
Find out more by clicking to view our social work Access course below. Alternatively, get in touch with our Course Executives to discuss it by calling them on 0121 392 8288 or speaking with them online.