Counsellors and social workers aim to help people deal with the challenges they face in their lives.
Due to 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 counsellor is working with is also engaged with social services.
If you’re considering becoming 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
Social workers work with third parties to provide services. They’ll use 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.
A social worker helps people gain access to the social services they need. To assist them with their current circumstances and provide multi-disciplinary support to help the individual achieve their chosen goals. Their aim is to help the individual maintain their independence in a safe and stable environment.
They support anyone from children and young people, adults and older people with issues ranging from abuse and neglect, to physical disabilities or mental health issues.
Unlike counsellors, social workers meet with individuals in their home or other safe setting to assess their situation and needs. They then work with relevant third parties to develop care plans. Which provide the support that will help them achieve their identified goals.
A counsellor works directly with their clients to help them address their mental health issuse. Counsellors provide the means for 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 clients may need additional support to help them develop the appropriate coping mechanisms.
In training, counsellors learn a number of therapeutic techniques, including marriage and couple’s therapy, family therapy, rehabilitation and vocational guidance. In some instances, also receiving training in forms of psychotherapy to enhance their services.
They 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
Social work requires at least an honours if not a postgraduate degree in social work, approved by Social Work England.
Generally, undergraduate degrees are full-time for three years, and postgraduate courses 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 course levels include a practical element. This is generally supervised placements that can be up to seven hours a day, running over 200 days.
Once qualified, you must register with Social Work England and renew your registration every year. This requires ongoing training through continuing professional development (CPD).
To get started, you can study an Access to Higher Education Diploma (Social Work), enabling you to study at university.
Counselling, on the other hand, doesn’t require a degree. You can get into this role through on the job training, a college course or by volunteering. However, most employers will want you to have professional training and be a member of a professional body. And for that you’ll need a 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 registered, 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. Presenting your client work to the supervisor and openly reflecting on the therapy process.
You can study many counselling courses online that allow you to work towards professional body membership.
For social workers, jobs are available in most areas. But this can depend on the size of the local population and the 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.
Counsellors can have a harder time finding positions, since few jobs are offered full-time. More often they are part-time or combined with other duties like such as teaching, nursing or advisory work.
Counsellors are employed in:
- Children’s centres
- Citizens 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.
Newly qualified social workers are known to earn between £24,000 and £30,000 per year. And up to £40,000 with further responsibilities and experience. Earning more in senior roles like a team or commissioning manager.
An entry-level counsellor can earn anywhere between £20,000 to £26,000, though this can vary. Again, with more experience they can get up to £40,000, with specialist roles commanding even higher.
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 you may 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 by specialising in another area. Or you can progress in your career by taking a more senior role within your area. Though, senior 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’d 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 management roles that take you out of client work and more into training, strategy and supervision.
Otherwise, you could become self-employed and establish your own practice and client base.
Start your Learning Today
If you’re considering pursuing a counsellor or social worker career, 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 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 about studying social work online with Stonebridge Associated Colleges by clicking the link below.