11 April 2011

Difference Between Social Work & Family Social Sciences

This past week I volunteered at the Rotary Career Fair in Winnipeg.  I have been there for the past three years and absolutely love it.  I especially enjoy the Wednesday night shift, this is where people who are considering career changes come.  It's not the freebie frenzy that it is during the day shifts.

The number one question I get it is: What is Human Ecology? (Which I wont address today) However the second most asked question is: What is the difference between Family Social Sciences and Social Work?  I want to address this question here because I am a graduate from the Family Social Sciences program.
As a little background, when I was starting my undergraduate degree, I was accepted into Social Work and Family Social Sciences.  This was a pickle, it would have been easier to be accepted into one. Nonetheless, I had to choose between the two.  I had consider my goals, wanting to work with families.  Which Social Work and Family Social Sciences grads do.

When I looked at the course titles and outlines, I noticed a major difference. Social Work (SW) focuses more on Social Policy, an outside in approach, and has it's own particular Social Work paradigm.  Family Social Sciences (FFSc) focuses more on family dynamics, and inside out approach, and has it's own Human Ecological model. Obviously, I chose FSSc over SW.

The best way to describe the differences between FSSc and SW is with a little analogy.  Let's say there is a village, and by this village there is a cliff. Unfortunately in this village a lot of people have been falling off of the cliff and getting severely injured.  The village has been thinking of ways to solve this problem, so that people will stop getting hurt.  They have come up with two options.  One, is to build a hospital at the bottom of the cliff, that way when someone falls, they can be taken immediately into the hospital and have their wounds treated.  Two, is to build a fence at the top of the cliff to prevent people from falling off.  Option one, is a reactionary approach; option two is a prepare and prevent approach.  SW is more in line with the first option, whereas FSSc is like the second option. (Note: Of course there are SW's that are preventative, and there are FSSc's that are reactionary, but primarily I feel that these are the roles of each).

I once spoke with a SWer about her job.  She mentioned in her position, when she sees families, they are in crisis, and her visit puts them into a higher level of crisis (Note: Yes I am aware not all SWer's work for CFS and take children away).  But it is that point of she puts her clients into crisis.  If that is something you can do, and want to do, by all means do it. For many people, though, they want to work with families but not put them in crisis.  This is where preventative approach is nice, because you work with families before they hit that point of crisis.

Another aspect that students point out to me is that Social Workers can do counselling. This is another area that is unfortunately misinformed in our society.  SWers do not undergo rigorous clinical training, nor do FSSc.  Neither of the masters programs go through counselling training, unless the MSW is clinically based.  We just have come to believe that if someone is a RSW, they can provide counselling, this is not the case.

The Registry of Social Workers is new in Manitoba.  It used to be that if a student was looking for post graduate professional recognition, only FSSc could provide that as a Professional Human Ecologist/Home Economist.  PHEc's have been regulated since 1990.  However, with the new RSW recognition, both can provide professional recognition.

However, in spite of me wanting to recruit future students to my faculty, I always tell students to keep their options open.  Don't start University closed minded, that may back-fire.  I share with students how I first wanted to do Accounting, that changed to Psychology, to Astronomy, to Social Work, to Family Social Sciences.  Always keep your options open.

For more information please go here for Faculty of Social Work, Registry of Social Work, Faculty of Human Ecology, and Professional Human Ecologists/Home Economists.


  1. I am a graduating high school next year and this information was a huge help and i loved how you described the difference between social work and family social science. Thank you!

  2. You are most welcome. Glad to help, and thanks for visiting. Hope University is stellar for you.

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  4. Hey,

    I like your article on the above topic. This is my struggle definitely. I have about a year and a half left to complete my degree in Family Social Sciences and I've gone back and forth on whether I should even finish it. This decision mostly comes down to age. I'm 32 and I feel like I am at thay crucial age where I feel pressure to achieve other areas of my life. However, I think I have finally made the decision to just bite the bullet and finish school full-time this upcoming fall. I am told that I will greatly value my degree in later years and it will give me a feeling of security. I guess my biggest hesistation is that I almost want a guarantee that I will find a job from this degree... I know there are no guarantees but I feel like I am too old to just mess around and have taken a variety of different courses in school and I just want this to go somewhere. Your advice is definitely welcomed!


  5. If you don't mind me asking, where do you currently work with your degree?

    1. Hi Deidra,

      Thanks for visiting. I wish I could guarantee employment for you with a degree in Family Social Sciences, but I can't. I can tell you feel like you are at a crossroads in life. I would encourage you to finish your education, because education is insurance on your career.

      What may help inch you closer to employment with this degree are a couple of things. My biggest regret in the FSSc program was not doing a practicum, if it is available do it. It can lead to a job, and if not that, you have established a network. Consider joining the Human Ecology Student Organization, participating in that kind of organization shows future employers that you can play in the sandbox. Also network with professionals in the field, primarily with the Manitoba Association of Home Economists. So in short, be involved and network are really important.

      I currently work as a child and youth mental health clinician. I have recently completed my masters degree, which has allowed me to take such a position. Before that I had worked at a local college as a continuing education programmer, and have had other roles working for world vision, and at a sexual assault centre. The possibilities are endless!!

      If you have any other q's, you can drop me a line.Good luck!

  6. This blog post helped me so much. Thank you.

    I just started my first year in university and have been contemplating on which faculty/programs I am interested in going into. Throughout highschool and until now, i have been interested in both sciences and arts but now that I am 3 months into university - I have decided that I will be going into the faculty of science at University of Manitoba, majoring in psychology to become a clinical psychologist. (Not stopping at a bachelors)

    I am contemplating on double majoring or even minoring in Family Social Science. I do not mind the extra years being spent in university. However, what are your thoughts on this? Does a FSS degree compliment a psychology major?

    Also do you have any thoughts on majoring in psychology, since you were considering this career path? I have been having doubts (specifically with employment) since there is a huge stigma towards this career path. What are some advice you can give me when choosing a program?

    1. Hi reeadysetgo,

      I have to admit my bias about Family Social Sciences. So of course I think it is a great idea. It could bring in a different theoretical approach to your work as a clinical psychologist. But I will be honest, employers don't ask what your majors and minors are, they ask if you can play well in the sandbox.

      Regarding psychology, I have earned my masters of counselling, which is psychology based. However, since I did not major in psychology in my undergrad, I had to take tests to prove that I was competent in undergraduate psychology knowledge. Overall, this path has proved worthwhile for me since I work as a Child & Youth Mental Health Clinician (mental health knowledge and counselling skills from my masters degree, and child and adolescent development and family dynamic knowledge from my bachelor's).

      Just some tips regarding your path, check out regulatory bodies and what their requirements are. For example, the requirements are different for registering as a psychologist in Alberta than in Manitoba.
      Manitoba: http://www.cpmb.ca/documents/GUIDELINES%20FOR%20APPLICANTS%20for%20REGISTRATION.pdf
      Alberta: http://www.cap.ab.ca/pdfs/infoforapps.pdf

      Also feel out which programs and streams you'd like for your PhD in Psychology, whether it is clinical or counselling.You can find programs here: http://www.cpa.ca/accreditation/CPAaccreditedprograms/

      I have however chosen to be certified with the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association, and you can see their requirements here: http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/en/memberbenefits/certification/

      And the stigma you talk about is evident in this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZaLipDgFZQ

      I feel I should note that I was having a conversation with Marshall Wilensky from EMDR Canada regarding a PhD in counselling psychology. He noted the unemployment rate (at least in BC) among counsellors with a PhD is 0%.

      Hope this information helps! Thanks for visiting!

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