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The Difference Between a Social Worker & a Case Manager

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Although they are sometime referred to as the same profession, Case Managers and Social Workers share different job responsibilities. The distinguishing factor is the education and licensure mandatory to perform job duties. The National Association of Social Workers defines social workers as a group of professionals who deal with individuals, groups and communities to restore societal conditions into a favorable condition. This is done through the implementation of social work values, principles and techniques. Case Managers, on the other hand, coordinate with agencies, organizations and facilities to find the best help for their clients.

Meeting Individual Needs

The objective of a Case Manager is to provide the necessary assistance to clients (individuals seeking assistance) might need to function in society. Most of their work centers on the individual with little consideration to environmental factors, such as school, work or living situations. They do, however, perform detailed assessments to present to their referral sources. Social workers’ concerns go beyond the individual. Their training and specialized education allows them to investigate the social, emotional and physical ramifications on a client’s needs.

Advocate For Change

Advocating change in the discipline and for the people they serve is a huge part of the social worker’s role. For case managers, the American Case Management Association does represent the interests of case managers but the proactive stance isn’t as prevalent as the voice of NASW. Since individuals from a wide variety of education backgrounds work in the field, many of them align themselves with professional organizations closely related to their baccalaureate education or work experience. For instance, case managers who are registered nurses are mostly represented by the American Nursing Association.

No Counseling Required

Case managers are not licensed to provide counseling like master’s and doctorate level social workers. They are only allowed to hear the needs of the client and provide a necessary course of action. For instance, if a case manager is working with a client and the individual has a substance abuse problem, the case manager will probably refer the individual to a Substance Abuse Counselor. By matter of their job description, they are not allowed to counsel their clients.

Variety in Education

To be considered a social worker, professionals must graduate from a Council of Social Work Education accredited social work program and earn one of the following four degrees--bachelor or master of social work, or Ph.D. in social work or doctorate in social work. In addition, they must and pass state licensing exams and national credential tests. Case managers come from a variety of education backgrounds, from nursing to business administration. Since there is no specific degree requirement, the work environment dictates what employers seek in a highly qualified case manager.

By Many Other Titles

While are there are only a couple variations in the titles of case managers (RN case manager is the second most common title), there are a slew of job titles for social workers. The most common two acquired through state licensure and the type of degree, Licensed Bachelor’s Social Worker (LBSW) and Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW). In addition, social workers with advance licenses serve in clinical and nonclinical settings. Some also enter into their own practice. There are also licensing in supervision and substance abuse counseling.


Tonya Whitaker has worked as a professional journalist and copy editor since 1998. She has written columns and features for "The Huntsville Item" and "North Dallas Gazette." Whitaker earned a Bachelor of Science in sociology from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and is pursuing a Master of Arts in English from Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas.

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