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What’s the Difference Between a Psychology Degree and a Social Work Degree?

The fields of psychology and social work share many similarities, but understanding what distinguishes one from the other will help you choose the right degree program.

Psychologists and social workers share a common desire to help individuals and families make positive changes and improve their lives, yet each type of professional provides assistance using a different set of skills, methods, and goals.

The Role of Psychologists

These professionals study the mind and behavior, including both normal and abnormal functioning. With an online psychology degree, psychologists can pursue many rewarding career options in a variety of settings—from a clinical psychologist treating clients in a private practice to a forensic psychologist in the criminal justice system to an industrial and organizational psychologist.*

Some of the most common psychology degrees include:


  • PhD in Psychology
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology
  • PhD in Forensic Psychology
  • PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • PhD in Developmental Psychology


  • MS in Psychology
  • MS in Clinical Psychology
  • MS in Forensic Psychology
  • MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • MS in Developmental Psychology


  • BS in Psychology
  • BS in Forensic Psychology

Job Growth for Psychologists

Employment of psychologists is projected to grow 12% from 2012 to 2022—an average rate for all professions. The median annual salary was $69,280 in May 2012, and the top 10% earned more than $110,880.

The Role of Social Workers

Social workers help individuals, families, and groups solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives that may arise from poverty, unemployment, advanced age, physical ailments, mental illness, abuse, or other serious issues. Like psychologists, social workers find positions in a variety of settings, such as healthcare organizations and public and private agencies at the community, city, and state levels.

With elective clusters offered through online social work degree programs, students can focus on specialized areas of interest, such as addiction; children, families, and couples; crisis and trauma; forensic populations and settings; medical social work, or military families and culture.

There are two types of social workers:

  • Direct-service social workers—Their goal is to identify government and community services that can improve their clients’ situations, such as applying for government aid, finding employment, removing children from abusive homes, and connecting with community resources like home meal delivery.

  • Clinical social workers—Their clients often have emotional and behavioral problems or psychiatric conditions. As clinicians, social workers are trained to perform psychotherapy and even diagnose patients. They are often part of a collaborative team of psychiatrists and advanced-practice psychiatric nurses.

Some of the most common degree programs earned by social workers include a PhD in Social Work, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW), Master of Social Work (MSW), and a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

Job Growth for Social Workers

Employment of social workers is projected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022—faster than the average for all professions. The median annual wage was $44,200 in May 2012, and the top 10% earned more than $72,980. The median annual wages in 2012 for a sampling of social work careers were:

  • $49,830 for healthcare social workers
  • $41,530 for child, family, and school social workers
  • $39,980 for mental health and substance abuse social workers
  • $54,560 for all other social workers

Whether you choose an online psychology or social work degree, you can look forward to a rewarding career—and making a real difference helping to improve the lives of others.

Explore Walden University's online psychology degree programs and social work degree programs to launch, advance, or change the direction of your career. Earn your graduate degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.

†Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012 Edition, Psychologists, Social Workers, on the Internet at