Social Work DSW vs PsyD Degree Differences

The MSW or Master of Social Work is typically considered a terminal degree in social work, but there are two major choices for social workers who want to obtain a doctoral degree: Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or  Psy.D., which is a doctoral degree in psychology. Both degrees provide you with the skills to help people with a variety of personal and mental health problems. But there are some differences between the degrees that we should highlight here.

What Is a Doctor of Social Work?

At the top of the social work, the profession is the DSW. This degree allows students almost unlimited choices in the human services field, and especially in social work agencies. No other type of social work degree provides you the same prestige, versatility, and recognition of status, or the ability to make a large income. With a DSW, you generally have your choice of the agency to work in and in which leadership role. This is a professional doctorate that stresses social work practice, applied research and leadership. DSW graduates usually want social service leadership roles.

SEE ALSO: 5+ Online DSW with No GRE Requirement

If you are interested in studying social work in a clinical setting, having the DSW gives you the credibility that you need to build a staff of researchers and to develop your own research program. If you desire to teach in college, having your DSW will help you to train the next generation of up and coming social workers.

Some of the potential occupations you may work in with a DSW are:

  • Mental health social worker
  • Clinical social workers
  • Social and community service manager
  • Nonprofit director
  • Social work administrator
  • Human services administrator
  • Professor of social work
  • School or university social worker

With a DSW, you have the training of a clinical social worker, which gives you the skills to treat mental, health, behavioral and emotional disorders. They offer individual, group, family and couples therapy. A difference between a DSW holder and a Psy.D. holder is you will typically refer your clients to other resources in the community, including support groups and other mental health professionals.

Remember, social workers, focus on working with families and individuals to improve life quality. They need to have a complete understanding of human development and behavior to work with their patients, with the goal to build a stronger community. Social workers with a DSW help their clients to overcome their personal challenges to help them to hone skills they need to succeed in life.

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Salary and Job Demand  for Doctor of Social Work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for social workers is $47,980, but note that the top 10% with a master’s or doctoral degree can earn more than $79,700 per year. ( states the average salary for a DWS holder is $100,000 per year. ( Some of the specific jobs and salaries that site lists with a DSW are:

  • CEO of Nonprofit Organization: $127,300
  • Executive Director, HR: $128,000
  • Program Director, Nonprofit: $99,500

SEE ALSO: Salary Outlook with Ph.D. in Social Work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports strong job demand for people with advanced social work degrees. Overall employment in this field will rise by a strong 16% through 2026. Strong demand for healthcare and social services will increase demand for social workers. Plus, demand for healthcare social workers will rise by 20% through 2026, which is much faster than average. Healthcare social workers are needed to assist aging populations and their families to adjust to new medications, treatments and lifestyles. (

What Is a Psy.D. of Psychology?

The Doctor of Psychology degree, known best as a Psy.D., is a professional practice doctoral degree that prepares you to practice psychology in a private setting so you can become a licensed counseling or clinical psychologist. After licensure, they are qualified to deliver psychological services to groups, individuals and organizations. The majority of Psy.D. programs require you to prepare a dissertation.

SEE ALSO: Best Accredited Online PsyD Degree Programs

The Psy.D. differs from the Ph.D. in that the former is an applied degree that is focused clinically and stresses counseling and therapy to help people in a counseling or clinical setting. The Ph.D. is largely focused on academic research and scholarly publications.

As with social workers, a psychologist works with people who are having problems in their lives, but they tend to work more with individual patients, rather than families and groups. When you see a psychologist, you may undergo extensive psychological testing and counseling. The major goal of the psychologist is to do diagnostic testing for mental illness and to offer psychotherapy services.

Salary and Job Demand for Psy.D.

The career path for Psy.D. holders is also excellent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports the median wage for all psychologists is $77,000. The top 10% with a postgraduate degree earn more than $124,000 per year. ( also reports the average psychologist’s salary is $74,566, with a range of $46,000 to $112,000. (

The job outlook for all psychologists is also strong, with 14% growth expected through 2026, which is faster than other professions. Demand for clinical and counseling psychologists will rise as people are continuing to turn to psychologists for help with their mental health problems as they age. (


Both the DSW and Psy.D. are excellent postgraduate degree programs. The DSW is focused on helping the individual, family and group on a larger social context, which the Psy.D. is centered on providing individual clinical or counseling therapy to help that individual to overcome their problems. Both are worthy goals and careers that pay well. The choice comes down to which type of psychological approach that you prefer in your career.

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