Master's in Social Work (MSW) vs. Ph.D. in Social Work

MSW vs PhD in Social Work

This question can apply to two different scenarios: the Master of Social Work versus the PhD in Social Work; it is a question many people also ask about the education for a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, (LCSW) which is a position for psychotherapy and counseling, and the PhD in Clinical Psychology, which is the degree that psychology students work towards if they want a career in therapeutic psychology. We'll take a brief look at both combinations.

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Masters in Social Work vs PhD in Social Work

This comparison focuses on the traditional career assignments that attend a Doctor of Philosophy in most academic fields. Like a PhD in chemistry or history or political science or math, the PhD in Social Work is an academic degree meant for students who want to do research in the social services field and teach at the collegiate level. While social work PhD candidates may be actively involved in social work upon entering the program, the degree will nonetheless take 5-7 years to complete - a period that includes the research, writing, and defense of a dissertation. Thereafter most PhD in Social Work graduates work in teaching or in social service research.

The MSW has always been a degree for people who are passionate about working in the field with the elements of our society that need social services and support. The degree is necessary for a full-fledged career in social work; the Licensed Clinical Social Worker can work in counseling and therapy with groups, families, children and others in need. A Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is likely to be the credential necessary to manage a social services program, oversee social services policy, or engage in advocacy for programs and underserved segments of the population.

Masters in Social Work vs PhD in Clinical Psychology

Traditionally the PhD in Psychology has been a degree for psychologists interested in research and teaching. The PhD in Clinical Psychology is an exception to that rule, in that many professionals complete this particular specialization of the degree in order to enter a therapeutic practice. A PhD in Psychology is also an excellent credential for behavioral research and testing in professional settings where psychological testing is critical to a particular goal. Professional psychologists can play a prominent role in law enforcement by providing expert testimony on the psychological makeup of a defendant in a case.

A MSW in clinical work usually leads to the two years' supervised field work that follows the degree in order to qualify for the exam for Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Individuals with this credential may also enter the field of counseling or psychotherapy and generally do so in all manner of service center settings: hospitals, social service agencies, homeless shelters, schools, and non-profit family service facilities.

A PhD in Clinical Psychology requires a much heavier academic load. The degree will take 5-6 years to finish, includes a dissertation, and for the purposes of therapeutic practice will require internship hours as well. While clinical psychologists generally don't seek employment in the variety of jobs that are open to LCSW professionals, they are going to be more highly qualified for psychological testing, for interacting with medical professionals, and for working as experts in the field of psychology.

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