Understanding Human Services vs. Social Work Careers

Human services workers working together on project

Many students feel called to pursue a career that would enable them to make a positive difference in the lives of others. If this sounds like you, you may want to consider the fields of human services and social work. However, you may be asking yourself this common question: Is human services the same as social work? And if not, what’s the difference between human services and social work? Explore the following career guide to find the answers.

Is Human Services the Same as Social Work?

The question, “Is human services the same as social work?” is something of a trick question. Although they may be referred to as separate fields, there is considerable overlap. In fact, social work is typically defined as a subfield of the human services field.

The field of human services is quite broad in scope. It is an interdisciplinary field that involves the delivery of social assistance programs and services designed to meet a wide array of human needs. Those human needs might include anything from food and shelter to counseling services and substance abuse treatment.

Human services professionals work toward the remediation of common human problems, as well as their prevention. These workers also strive to improve quality of life for individuals, families and entire communities.

Similarly, the social work field is an interdisciplinary one that focuses on empowering people, families and communities. Social workers also focus on enhancing the overall well-being and meeting the needs of their clients.

Differences in Human Services vs. Social Work Fields

If the human services field and the social work field overlap, then what exactly is the difference between human services vs. social work? The most significant difference is the scope. The human services field encompasses a broad range of professions; as such, these professionals may work in a range of settings with varied goals. However, human service workers are not licensed and thus have a limited scope of practice.

In contrast, the social work field generally focuses on empowering marginalized populations, such as people affected by poverty, unemployment, hate crimes, domestic violence, mental health disorders or disabilities. In addition to helping their clients overcome challenges, social workers are advocates for social justice and policy reforms that benefit the marginalized populations they serve. In contrast, social workers have a much broader scope of practice.

Types of Social Work Careers To Consider

If you would like to pursue a career in the social work subfield, there are a few categories of jobs to consider: Direct clinical service which is typically provided by a licensed social worker, mezzo practice- the development and implementation of social service initiatives at the local and small community levels and macro practice which includes policy advocacy, community organizing and larger group work. Within those categories, there are many specializations. For instance, some professionals specialize in working within school systems or hospitals; others specialize in working with the homeless population or with neglected and abused children.

As a social worker, you would deliver counseling services designed to help your clients develop strong coping skills and implement strategies to overcome various challenges. You may also help your clients access community resources.

In contrast, a social work case manager is not licensed and does not provide counseling services. Instead, they provide case and care coordination. A case manager may conduct intake processing and create a care plan for a new client before referring that client to other professionals for the delivery of services.

Career Possibilities in the Human Services Field

Aside from pursuing a career as a social worker, there are a wide range of career pathways within the broader human services field. These include the following:

  • Family advocate/court advocate – When a family must navigate the family court system, a family advocate or court advocate can be assigned to protect the best interests of the involved children. A family advocate may be responsible for evaluating the family’s unique circumstances and issuing recommendations to the court regarding the guardianship and care of the children.
  • Crisis support worker – A crisis support worker serves as an advocate and source of guidance for individuals who are experiencing various crises. For example, these workers may help people navigate community resources and the legal system in the wake of a sexual assault or other violent attack.

Pursuing Your Social Work Degree

If you decide to pursue a career as a social worker or a social work case manager, you should plan on earning a social work degree after high school. A bachelor’s degree in this subfield will typically explore the following topics:

  • The history, development and theoretical models of social work and the professional roles of human service agencies
  • The acquisition of cultural competencies, professional ethics and communication techniques
  • Theories of human behavior as individuals and families, with a look at biopsychosocial development
  • The screening, assessment and treatment of traumatic stress
  • The tracking and management of a client case load, including techniques for assessment and problem-solving in various client populations

A Bachelor of Social Work degree should include field practicum hours. During your field instruction classes, you’ll be embedded within a community agency to acquire hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced professionals.

In addition to your field practicum hours, it’s a good idea to speak with your student services department about local internship opportunities, which can build your professional network, instill a strong sense of professionalism and give you an inside look at the inner workings of a social work setting.

After graduating, you’ll be qualified to pursue entry-level jobs in the social work field. If you wish to become a licensed clinical social worker, you’ll need to go on to graduate school and consider earning your Master of Social Work. Licensure requirements can vary from state to state, but a master’s degree and at least two years of supervised clinical experience are the basic requirements for these professionals.

What Type of Degree Should Human Services Workers Earn?

If you think you’d rather not become a social worker, but you’re still interested in the field, you’ll need to carefully consider your human services degree options. Many human services workers can benefit from a social work degree, even if they don’t plan on becoming social workers. Others may be better served by a different type of bachelor’s degree.

For example, many human services workers are counselors. You’ll need to earn a counseling degree in order to work as a substance abuse counselor, family counselor or other type of counselor. A counseling degree can also be appropriate for aspiring crisis support workers.

Some human services workers can benefit from an academic background in criminal justice or justice studies. These include court support workers and court advocates, such as the professionals who promote the best interests of children who have been caught up in a legal case.

No matter where your career takes you, you can build a solid foundation for future success at Grand Canyon University. Students can choose from a wide array of degree options, including the Bachelor of Social Work program. Graduates will emerge with core competencies in the social work field that empower them to confidently pursue a meaningful career with a positive impact on the community.

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about earning your social work degree at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.