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Case Manager vs Social Worker: What's the Difference?

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Reviewed By
Published on: 08/02/2023
Last Updated: 04/17/2024
6 minute read

If helping others is something you are passionate about, especially the disadvantaged in your community, a career in social services may be of interest to you. Case management and social work are two examples of social service careers. 

The two careers require a background in social work education or a social work degree. They have complementary roles within social work case management, but people often find it difficult to determine the difference between being a case manager vs. a social worker. There’s one key difference to keep in mind: Licensed clinical social workers can provide therapy to clients, while case managers cannot.

Clinical social workers, such as family therapists, provide therapeutic interventions to address clients' emotional and relational concerns. They too often engage in case management tasks, although the extent of involvement may vary depending on the specific role and setting.

Social work case managers only act as plan developers, keep detailed case notes, offer case management services, and collaborate with other professionals to connect clients to the services they need.

Whether working through medical records, liaising with a healthcare provider, or helping clients’ needs in primary care settings, both case management services and clinical social work play important roles in empowering those they serve. Either of these compassionate careers will enable you to engage with your community and provide assistance to individuals facing challenging circumstances, like illness, job loss, homelessness, or addiction. Here, we’ll review everything you should know when considering a career as a case worker or social worker.

Case Worker vs Social Worker: Key Differences

As specialties within the social services field, case management and social work share many similarities. For instance, case managers and social workers perform similar duties, such as:

  • Meeting directly with clients and patients
  • Working in settings like hospitals, clinics, and government agencies
  • Connecting individuals with assistance and human services
  • Creating care plans and maintaining case files

However, there’s one significant difference to note when it comes to comparing case worker vs social worker: As mentioned, qualified social workers may be licensed to provide therapy, whereas case managers cannot provide therapy. Instead, they refer clients to mental health services in the community.

Case Manager: Role and Responsibilities

A case manager is a specialized type of social service worker who coordinates care and services for individuals who are receiving medical or mental health care.1 They can work in various settings, such as:2

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Insurance companies
  • Worker’s compensation programs
  • Community agencies

Case managers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like social work, nursing, or healthcare management. Most states also require additional certification or licensure, such as certification from the American Case Management Association or the Commission for Case Management Certification.3

The Day-to-Day Life of a Case Manager

The day-to-day responsibilities of a case manager vary depending on their work setting, but typical responsibilities include:4

  • Meeting with patients to assess their needs and discuss care options
  • Educating patients to ensure they fully understand their diagnosis, treatment plan, and transitional care options
  • Communicating with medical staff, insurance providers, and others involved in a patient’s care
  • Drafting service plans for individuals
  • Reviewing case progress and maintaining case files
  • Connecting patients with appropriate community resources
  • Being a patient advocate

Social Worker: Role and Responsibilities

Social workers are specially trained professionals who hold a master’s degree in social work from an accredited university.5 There are many types of social workers such as a school social worker, a clinical social worker, or a school counselor. They specialize in helping people improve their quality of life by connecting them with community resources that provide access to basic needs like food, shelter, healthcare, and safety. 

Social workers may specialize in domestic abuse, trauma, addiction, mental health, and other specific concerns. They can work in a wide variety of settings, such as:

  • Social services agencies
  • Community health clinics
  • Behavioral health agencies
  • Schools
  • Advocacy groups
  • Child welfare agencies
  • International social work groups
  • Private practices
  • Family therapy

Not all social workers are required to have a license, but if they wish to provide mental health counseling, they need to be a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Specific requirements to become an LCSW vary by state, but in general, an individual needs to:

  1. Obtain a master’s degree in social work
  2. Complete a number of supervised hours (usually 3,000)
  3. Pass their state’s licensing exam
  4. Renew their license regularly

The Day-to-Day Life of a Social Worker 

A social worker’s role may look very different depending on the branch of social work in which they specialize.6 Broadly speaking, responsibilities can include:

  • Assessing an individual or family’s needs based on their current circumstances
  • Collaborating with other professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists, medical staff, and others to provide care to clients
  • Developing and implementing care plans 
  • Connecting clients with community resources 
  • Staying up-to-date and informed on local, state, and federal resources available to those in need
  • Working directly with clients to provide services, sometimes including counseling   

 Explore our MSW Degree

Case Manager vs Social Worker: Which is Right for You?

Both social workers and case managers should have soft skills like empathy, compassion, and an interest in advocacy. In addition, they can both benefit from having a variety of administrative skills to help manage heavy caseloads, monitor client progress, and keep case files up-to-date and organized. 

Ultimately, after understanding the job description of both professions, deciding what is best for you will depend on your individual goals, strengths, and interests. 

  • If you enjoy working with people directly and providing one-on-one services like counseling, you may prefer a career as a social worker
  • If you have an interest in management, project organization, and planning, being a case manager may be a better fit for you

Take the Next Step in Your Career Journey with Alliant

If you want to make a difference in the lives of individuals and have a positive impact on your community, a career as a case manager or social worker could be a fulfilling path for you. 

Alliant International University can help you take the first step toward a rewarding career as a social worker or case manager with a master’s degree in social work. Our curriculum will help prepare you for professional practice in the social work field, and our online learning options make education accessible for everyone. 

Reach out to Alliant today and find out how we can help you on your educational journey.

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  1. “Scope of Services.” American Case Management Association. Accessed May 11, 2023.
  2. “Introduction to the Case Management Body of Knowledge.” 2023. Commission for Case Management Certification.….  Accessed May 11, 2023.
  3. “Introduction to the Case Management Body of Knowledge.” 2023. Commission for Case Management Certification.….  Accessed May 11, 2023.  
  4. “Case Managers: What They Do (Plus FAQs About the Role).” 2023. Indeed Career Guide.  Accessed May 11, 2023. 
  5. “Types of Social Work.” 2023. National Association of Social Work.  Accessed May 11, 2023.
  6. "Types of Social Work.” 2023. National Association of Social Work.  Accessed May 11, 2023.

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