Case Manager vs. Counseling

A case management nurse may coordinate all aspects of hospital care.
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You’ve always got a ready ear for your friends’ problems, like to help come up with creative solutions and enjoy helping people. Sounds as though case management or counseling would be right up your alley. You might not realize, however, that neither case management nor counseling are actual occupations, but specialized functions performed by social workers, registered nurses, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.

Case Management

    Case management is a process that includes assessing an individual's health needs and helping patient and family receive services or learn self-management. The objective in case management is to help a patient be as healthy and functional as they can be given the nature of their illness or injury. Case managers coordinate care, interact with other health care professionals and insurance companies and may also provide patient or caregiver education. Registered nurses and social workers are well-positioned to be case managers, as both receive extensive training in coordination of care and referrals to services.


    Counselors help people with mental health or behavioral issues. They may provide a ready ear, as you do when your BFF has a bad day, ask questions to help the individual identify patterns that may be contributing to the problem or develop strategies to change behavior. Some counselors work only with individuals, others focus on marital and family work, while still others do it all. No matter what their professional training, the goal of counselors is to help people become emotionally stable and more self-sufficient. Social workers, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists all perform counseling functions.


    RNs need an associate's degree, diploma or bachelor’s degree, while social workers need either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, depending on their specialty. Mental health counselors must have master’s degrees and must be licensed in all states. RNs must also be licensed in all states. Licensing varies for social workers, although clinical social workers must be licensed. All of these professions have the option to become certified, but social workers are required to be certified rather than licensed in some states.


    Although no national occupational standards exist for case management and counseling, all of the professionals who work in these fields must have supervised clinical experience to graduate or become licensed. Continuing education is mandated for these occupations in order to maintain licensure. Many work setting similarities exist -- social workers, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists often work in private practice, for example, while RNs and social workers may work in hospitals and clinics.

Making Your Choice

    Choosing among these occupations can be difficult, even though they perform similar functions in some cases. Registered nurses and social workers have a great deal of flexibility in terms of workplace options and specialties. If mental health fascinates you, you might prefer to become a mental health counselor, although it does take longer to get a degree than if you become an RN or social worker. If you’re intrigued by the dynamics of family relationships and want to help everyone in the family be more emotionally healthy, you might prefer marriage and family therapy.

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