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Comparing & Contrasting Counseling & Case Management

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Counseling and case management cover a wide range of activities, some of which are similar or related. A case manager, for example, might give a patient advice about selecting medical services. Counselors typically offer advice and support on issues ranging from substance abuse, marital issues or finances to career planning. Neither counseling nor case management are careers, however, but functions or processes in various occupations.

Occupations that Include Counseling

Substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorders counselors, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors are examples of professionals who use counseling techniques in their work. Although mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists must have a master’s degree, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports substance abuse and behavioral disorders counselors typically have a high school diploma and on-the-job training. School and career counselors need a master’s degree, as do rehabilitation counselors. Each of these workers uses counseling techniques -- essentially giving people advice and helping them to solve problems -- in their daily work.

Case Managment Balancing Act

Case managers are often social workers or registered nurses. Case management is a process that includes assessment, planning and evaluation of individual or family health needs. A case manager facilitates activities such as scheduling medical appointments, coordinating care and advocating for services to help the patient become as healthy and functional as possible. Case managers balance patients’ needs with available financial and family resources, while assuring that care is cost-effective and results in positive health outcomes. Social workers need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and may need a master’s degree in some specialties. Registered nurses might have an associate degree, diploma or bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Giving Advice

The primary similarity between counseling and case management is that both involve giving advice or suggestions to people who want to make changes or achieve certain goals in their lives. The advice might be the same, although the focus could be different. A case manager, mental health counselor or substance abuse counselor, for example, might advise an alcoholic patient to stop drinking. The case manager might emphasize health effects, however, while the counselors could focus on alcoholism’s effects on family relationships or employment.

Coordination of Care

The primary difference between counseling and case management is coordination of care. Counselors identify issues in collaboration with patients or clients and make suggestions for change or set goals. Case managers collaborate with other health professionals in a variety of disciplines to ensure the patient receives necessary services. A case manager might schedule medical appointments or surgery, bring family caregivers and physicians together to discuss long-term management or advocate for services. Because case management also involves the financial aspects of patient care and services, the case manager might also work with insurance companies to determine what services are available under a particular plan or policy.

It's Your Call

Careers that use counseling strategies and case management vary widely in terms of educational, certification and licensing requirements. Educational requirements can be as little as a high school diploma or as significant as a master’s degree. Work settings vary from private practice to schools to hospitals. The BLS notes demand for these occupations through 2020 could be as high as 37 percent for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists or about average -- as is the case with school and career counselors -- at 19 percent. Your personal interests, financial situation and preferences will determine your choice.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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