What is the Difference Between Human Services and Psychology?

Students with a desire to help others and impact lives in positive and meaningful ways may find themselves drawn to the fields of human services and psychology.

While professionals in these two arenas may find their work intertwined, there are distinct differences in focus and methodology that set the disciplines apart.

Making a Difference in Unique Ways

Human services professionals and psychologists often work in concert to help people overcome or cope with a range of challenges. Their focus areas differ by design so the two professions can come together like pieces of a puzzle to provide clients with a diverse range of services.

Human Services: A Utilitarian Approach

Human services professionals collect information about clients to gauge which services and programs can best assist them. Human services and social workers interview clients and family members to understand their needs and qualifications, and then provide information and referrals to appropriate agencies or service providers. They may also offer advice on child care, money management, applying for assistance and related services.

At the entry level, professionals typically require a bachelor’s degree in human services or social work. At the master’s level, human services professionals work in a more hands-on capacity. Mental health and substance abuse counselors, for example, counsel clients, collaborate with healthcare providers and refer patients for assistance.

Psychologists: Treating to Make a Difference

Psychologists evaluate and diagnose clients of all ages facing an array of challenges. They create treatment plans to modify behaviors related to substance abuse, family problems and stress, among other areas of concern. These professionals counsel clients directly, and also collaborate with doctors and other care providers.

Entry into this profession typically calls for a master’s degree and some states require psychologists to be licensed.

Approaches Make the Distinction

Human services professionals and psychologists are driven by a desire to help others. Working in an applied field, human services professionals evaluate clients and match them with appropriate services. In psychology, the emphasis extends beyond treating clients to include conducting research to advance the understanding of human behavior.

Degrees in human services and psychology can pave the way for careers in fields strongly rooted in helping others. While duties and approaches differ, professionals in these arenas often work hand-in-hand to improve outcomes for the people they serve.

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