Master’s in Human Services (MHS) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degree holders share a common calling. Both are dedicated to helping people overcome struggles and lead productive lives. Both experience personal growth and professional rewards in their chosen career paths. So what are the primary differences between the two professions? How do you pick the right degree?
Although social workers and MHS graduates overlap in the work they do, and may even practice in some of the same settings, there are fundamental differences between Master’s in Human Services and Master of Social Work degrees.
By design, MSWs are trained to face a diverse set of problems and contexts, and to perform a variety of roles and duties. They may engage with societal challenges on a macro scale, tackling issues such as poverty and homelessness and engaging in advocacy and policy making. In this sense they are influencers and disruptors, impacting how we treat and recognize the suffering of marginalized populations.
Alternatively, they may choose a more personal, micro track, and become a clinician or psychotherapist to treat individuals who have mental health issues. Many MSWs go into private practice to deliver these mental health services. Their skill set is so valued that they are often seen as clinical peers to psychologists.
MSWs play many other important roles in the health care, mental health, and medical fields, working as medical social workers, grief counselors, military social workers, hospice counselors, and child welfare workers. These are just some of the practice areas commonly pursued by MSWs.
Social work is also a highly regulated profession. MSWs join the ranks of nurses, physicians, and psychologists who must be licensed to practice in their state. Licensure ensures the public of professional standards and a code of ethics. With licensure, MSWs are also qualified to be reimbursed by insurance companies for the work that they do. As such, many employers choose to hire MSWs over individuals who hold other similar degrees. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social work profession is expected to grow by 16 percent over the next several years.
The Master’s in Human Services Degree focuses students on the human services industry. As the name of the degree implies, human services and human services delivery is the primary area of study.
In contrast to social work, human services is not a regulated profession. At present, licensure is not available. However, there is voluntary certification. An MHS degree holder can become a Human Services Board Certified Practitioner.
The lack of state licensure may impact the duties MHS degree holders perform, and the settings in which they are qualified to work. Whereas licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are considered to be clinicians who hold equal footing to psychologists in mental health settings, MHS degree holders may not achieve the same status.
MHS graduates typically perform work in the human services industry, where meeting the particular needs of individuals is a core mission. These professionals are particularly focused on the organizational level of delivering human services, and on human behavior within social systems. They may study nonprofit management, organizational behavior, and communication during their time in school.
Many MHS degree holders also pursue the same positions held by social workers. They may work in community organizations and in community outreach. Like their MSW peers, they may be employed as mental health counselors or substance abuse counselors. To develop an expertise in these professions, MHS students can concentrate in these practice areas while in school.
Again, the level at which MHS counselors may perform clinical mental health work may be dictated by whether a license is required. Depending on the setting, MHS counselors may need to be supervised by a LCSW or psychologist to deliver these services.
Both the MSW and MHS degrees are well suited to those individuals who hope to make helping others their main professional pursuit. But the additional credentialing and regulation inherent in the Master of Social Work place those degree holders at a slight advantage when it comes to certain clinical professions. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of the MSW prepares students for macro roles in advocacy and policy-making.