Graduate degrees in psychology and social work can prepare you to become a therapist.

To the uninitiated, the scope and areas of focus of psychology and social work majors might seem indistinguishable. There are significant areas of overlap between the two fields, and both degrees prepare students for graduate work that can train them to become counselors or therapists. However, while psychology focuses on the individual, social work focuses more on environment and social context.

Focus of Study

The focus on the individual mind in psychology means you'll spend time learning about mental health diagnoses, brain development, how different parts of the brain can affect emotions and how emotions affect behavior. With a social work degree, by contrast, you'll focus more on a person's social context, learning about the ways environment influences development, how community interventions can prevent mental health problems and how cultural norms can either improve or worsen both mental health concerns and societal problems such as child abuse.

Graduate School

Degrees in both psychology and social work tend to necessitate graduate training before you can practice in your field. An undergraduate degree in psychology might land you a job as a psychology writer or research assistant, and a social work degree could get you a job at a nonprofit, but you'll generally need to go to graduate school. Graduate school in either psychology or social work can prepare you to work as a therapist, with psychology students becoming psychologists or counselors and social workers becoming licensed clinical social workers.

Psychology Classes

To earn a degree in psychology, you'll take classes such as introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, theories of personality and psychopharmacology. But you'll also take some classes related to social work. For example, at Kennesaw State University, psychology students must take classes in social psychology. They must also take 12 hours of non-psychology classes related to their degree, and these classes might include courses such as social work or sociology.

Social Work Classes

Your social work classes will focus primarily on social behavior. You'll take a wide variety of social work classes, as well as courses in sociology. At Ohio State University, for example, students must take more than 60 hours of social work classes, but must also take a course in psychology and a course in another social science. Students may choose to fill this elective with another psychology class.