The Differences Between Case Managers and Social Workers

Last Updated on June 3, 2022

Case managers are often confused with social workers. I’ve had clients for years that thought that I was their social worker instead of their case manager. When I explain that I’m the case manager and not the social worker I often get a confused look in response. Case managers are also referred to as other titles such as case workers and service coordinators. There are some similarities and there are many areas where the two jobs overlap. It really depends on the type of case manager or social work position. Both require similar educational backgrounds but specific job duties can differ depending on the services provided.

Case Managers

Education- Case managers require a minimum of an undergraduate degree in a human services related field of study (Psychology, Human Services, Criminal Justice, etc.). Case managers that work in hospitals might also have undergraduate degrees in nursing and have an  RN certification. Case managers can also have a degree in social work.

Job Duties – The primary job duty of a case manager is to coordinate services. I like to consider case managers as the “middle man” of human services. They often serve as the liaison between the client and the service provider primarily through the referral process. The case manager is also usually the mediator when problems arise between clients and providers.
Case managers complete screening assessments to determine program eligibility as well as functional assessments to determine eligibility for additional services.

Unlike some social workers, case managers do not provide therapy to clients. Case managers might provide supportive counseling at times but if ongoing counseling is needed, they would link the client to a licensed therapist, social worker, or psychologist. There is no license for a case manager to provide therapy. However, nurse case managers can be  certified but other forms of case management do not typically require any form of certification.

Social Workers

Education- Social workers usually have Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work (BSW) or Masters degrees in social Work (MSW).  Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are usually required to have an MSW before going through the licensing process. However, social workers in other human service positions can also have degrees in similar fields like psychology and sociology just like case managers.  

Job Duties- Social workers often work in local public agencies and can perform a variety of job functions. These social workers often work in  child and adult protective services. Social workers perform some traditional case management tasks such as service coordination for long-term APS or CPS cases.

They might also work in more administrative roles such as determining eligibility and completing long term care documentation. These social workers typically don’t go out to the home or provide clinical services. These “social workers” typically handle issues that arise with Medicaid eligibility and they also provide assistance when Medicaid benefits are discontinued or denied.
Clinical social workers can be licensed and provide mental health counseling and other forms of therapy.

In general, case managers and social workers are similar in education and overall job functions. However, social workers often cover a wider range of services depending on the type of social worker. Social workers can also become licensed to become therapists.  Case managers primarily provide service coordination and linkage to services. Case manager duties are basically the same regardless of the kind of case management (foster care, mental health, etc.).  

Both case managers and social workers play a key role in the healthcare system and offer a wide range of career options. Case managers are often the referral source that social workers and other service providers need to maintain their clientele. Case managers also need service providers to help their clients get the support they need. 



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Martin Gardner
Thanks for visiting Case Management Basics! Martin Gardner is the founder of and Case Management Basics, LLC. Gardner is a mental health professional with over 20 years of experience in the human services field.

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