Q & A about Clinical Social Workers

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Contributed by Associate Pam Roberts:



Do social workers provide therapy and counseling? I just thought they work for welfare or neglected children or seniors…..

Social workers can be found in a variety of settings (schools, not for profit sector, health, justice, child welfare, community and policy development, just to name a few!) and work with a wide variety of people.

But did you know that there is a specialty area of social work that provides therapy services? This specialty area is called “clinical social work” and these professionals provide effective therapy services.  In fact, clinical social workers are the largest group of practicing therapists in North America (Ontario Assoc of SW).

To be allowed to practice clinical social work, one must have a minimum of a Master of Social Work from an accredited University. This usually entails 6 to 7 years of University education.  Further, to practice clinical social work in Nova Scotia, one must also be registered with the Nova Scotia College of Social Work (www.nscsw.org).  It is the job of the NSCSW to regulate the profession and protect the public.  Social workers must adhere to the NSCSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.  There is also a requirement that all social workers have 40 hours of professional development each year in order to maintain their registration.

Clinical social workers conduct therapeutic assessments and interventions with individuals, families, couples and groups in a range of settings including private practice. Social workers have a person-in-environment approach, which is a thorough consideration of the biological, psychological and social factors that can affect a person’s functioning and well-being. Many social workers get advanced training in family and marital therapy.


Well then, if I am going to a therapist – what is the difference between a social worker and a psychologist?

When it comes to an actual therapy session, there are more similarities than differences between social work and psychology.


– Both professions have to have a minimum of a Masters degree

– Both have to be registered with their respective regulatory organizations- Both assess and treat a wide variety of distress and disorders

– Both adhere to their respective professional Code of Ethic

– Both provide evidence-based practice

– Both can be trained in the same models of therapy (CBT, ACT, SFT, Narrative, etc) and often attend the same professional development opportunities


– Only psychologists have training to provide certain types of psychological tests (i.e. intelligence, learning, personality, etc)

– Psychologists tend to focus more on behavior and cognition, where social workers tend to lean more towards problems that involve relationships (work, peers, relationships).

– Both have a Masters degree or higher.  However  many psychology program often require a larger focus on research projects throughout the degree



Clinical Social Worker or Psychologist…which one is best for me?

If you are thinking about coming to our office for counseling and are wondering whether social work or psychology is the right fit for you, please give us a call and speak with Dr. Woulff who will help you make the right decision. And remember, the research shows that the right fit between you and your therapist is the best indicator of whether counseling will be helpful for you or not!

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