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What is the difference between a Counsellor and a Social Worker?

7th May 21

People often confuse the difference between a counsellor and a social worker. This is because they’re similar roles both providing human services. Sometimes they may even overlap if the client is both in counselling and involved with social services.

Counsellors and social workers focus on supporting people through challenging times. And although their overall goal is the same, their approach is very different.

If you’re considering a career in counselling or social work then it’s best to be clear on what each role entails. This allows you to make an informed decision on the profession most suited to you.

No matter your previous experience or qualifications, it’s never too late to get qualified and start an exciting new career. Both industries celebrate employees from varied backgrounds as they can draw from their own experience to help others.

Read on to define the difference between a counsellor and a social worker. As well as what you need to do to get fully qualified.

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Social Worker

A social worker provides support to individuals. As well as access to social services and resources they need. Depending on their current circumstances they will offer a range of multi-disciplinary support to help people. This allows people to maintain independence and work towards improving their quality of life in a safe and stable environment.

As a social worker, you could find yourself working with various groups of people. From children and young people to adults with mental health issues, disabilities or substance misuse.

Unlike counsellors, you’ll also meet with people in their homes or other safe settings. Working alongside third parties to develop care plans to help them meet their goals.


A counsellor differs from a social worker because they work with their client directly to address their challenges. Helping them to manage mental health issues and explore their behaviour patterns.

This allows them to work through negative behaviours and improve their mental wellbeing. Although, sometimes clients may need additional support alongside counselling to help them further.

Counsellors learn several therapeutic techniques through training. This usually includes marriage and couple’s therapy, family therapy, rehabilitation and vocational guidance. Some counsellors may train further to offer forms of psychotherapy too.

Although counsellors can work in many areas often they’ll choose to specialise and focus their efforts on one. This ensures they’re experts in their chosen field to help people as best they can.

learndirect - What is the difference between a Counsellor and a Social Worker?

Education and Qualifications needed for Social Work

To become a qualified social worker you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree. Your degree course must also be approved by Social Work England to ensure the quality of the training. Generally, undergraduate degrees are full-time for three years.

Alternatively, if you already have a degree then you could enrol on a postgraduate course. However, you’ll need to show experience of having worked in a social care setting.

Both options will include a practical placement. Usually, these will be supervised placements and will run over 200 days.

Upon completion of your course, you’ll be able to register with Social Work England to work professionally. This registration must be renewed annually and requires ongoing training through continual professional development (CPD).

If you don’t have the necessary qualifications to meet university entry requirements an Access to HE Diploma can help. The Access to Higher Education Diploma (Social Work) is equivalent to A Level study. It’s worth between 48 and 144 UCAS points depending on your final grade.

The Access to HE Diploma gives you highly relevant knowledge to expand on at university level and beyond.

Education and Qualifications needed for Counselling

Unlike social work, counselling doesn’t require a degree. There are many avenues into counselling from on the job training or volunteering to college courses. However, employers will often expect training and for you to be a member of a professional body.

Having a professional membership ensures you meet the standards set by the code of ethics. Allowing you to practice professionally as a counsellor. You’ll also need to keep up to date with CPD courses. So you’re consistently enhancing your skills and reflecting on your ability as a counsellor.

There are many online counselling courses available should you choose this career route.  

learndirect - What is the difference between a Counsellor and a Social Worker?

Job opportunities

Social workers can find work in most areas within the local community. Common places social workers work includes:

  • 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.

Counselling work is usually part-time or combined with other roles such as nursing or advisory work. So it can be difficult to find full-time work without starting your own business and building a client base.

Generally, 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

The salary for both roles depends on your employer, location, specialism and experience. Newly qualified social workers can expect to earn between £24,000 – £30,000 per year. And you’re looking at up to £40,000 with experience.

Counsellors can expect a slightly lower starting rate between £20,000 to £26,000 per year. However, are looking at similar figures of up to £40,000 with experience.

learndirect - What is the difference between a Counsellor and a Social Worker?

Start your Learning Today

If you’re considering a career as a counsellor or social worker, learndirect can help you get there.

learndirect is the UK’s leading online learning provider offering a range of online courses. From the Access to HE Diploma (Social Work) to online counselling courses at various levels. Allowing you to start your journey towards becoming fully qualified for an exciting new career.

All our courses have flexible payment options and expert tutors to guide your learning. They’ll provide you with constructive feedback and any extra assistance where needed.

To learn more on how to prepare for your online learning journey visit our blog.

Speak to our advisors today or browse our courses below to learn more and get started.

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