A common problem for students interested in human services is whether to pursue a career as a social worker or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). Students may have questions about the time it takes to complete each degree program, which is the best fit based on their interests and strengths, the level of difficulty and the return on investment of time and money. Take a closer look at each career for some answers.


While social workers and MFTs often perform similar duties, the jobs are not interchangeable in the human services area. Both may provide clients with psychotherapy services; however, social workers handle case management, but MFTs do not.

One of the greatest similarities between the two careers is the type of person who tends to be most successful in practice. Someone who enjoys interacting with people and who is frequently sought by others to discuss problems would likely make a good social worker or MFT. Other qualities include being patient, a good listener and having a relaxed and inviting personality. People in both careers assist clients on a daily basis and must enjoy doing so. Both careers also come with a large amount of paperwork, continuing education and a commitment to staying abreast of changes in legal and insurance regulations.


The most obvious difference between social workers and MFTs is the educational approach. MFTs are professional mental health practitioners with graduate degrees; in many states, they must be licensed, following graduation with a master’s degree. MFTs have taken courses in psychotherapy and family systems and have been trained to develop their own approach to patient treatment. They learn to treat individuals, couples and families by looking at the mechanics within each relationship.

The education for social workers, on the other hand, prepares them most commonly for careers in community organizing, case management or other human services positions. Courses for social workers include professional ethics, research, child welfare services and human behavior. These classes teach students to look at human behavior in a social context; students learn how to apply social work techniques and practices to individuals and families, groups, and communities and organizations. Social workers may graduate with an undergraduate or a graduate degree.

Touro University Worldwide offers both a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. A strong choice for students can be to earn their Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), begin working as a social worker and then pursue their Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy. The BSW program provides a natural progression to graduate study, such as the MFT program.