Counselors, Social Workers, and Psychologists: Which is right for your child?

Divorce can be a difficult experience, especially for kids. This can be a time when your child is truly struggling – with academics, personal relationships, or managing emotions and behaviors. A little extra help in dealing with this new situation can make all the difference. But, who do you turn to? Counselors, social workers, psychologists – they all help, but which one is right for your child’s situation?



According to the American Counselling Association (ACA), a counselor helps people head down the path of achieving their goals.  Schools usually employ counselors to help students with academic, mental, and behavioral challenges.

Meeting with a counselor doesn’t mean that your child is not smart or that he has some kind of illness. Meeting with a counselor can help your child sort out what is bothering him and work out a strategy for dealing with it. The ACA gives a great list of things that counselors can help with, including:




         Substance abuse

         Peer relationship challenges

         Problems with parents or at home

         Academic problems and relationships with teachers

These challenges can exist on their own, or grow from new situations that are developing at home. A school counselor functions this way as well, but they tend to focus more on college preparation, academic success, and helping children be successful at school. These are typically available at middle and high schools, and sometimes at the elementary level.

School counselors can help work things out between people, too. For example, if your child needs to resolve an issue with a teacher, the school counselor can work with both of them. Or, a school counselor can facilitate a situation between a child and her parents. The American School Counselor Association advises students to meet with their school counselor three times every school year. They should introduce themselves to their counselor and get to know him or her at the beginning of the year, then visit a couple more times to make sure they are staying on course for year-end success (and beyond). If your family is going through a divorce, your child may find it helpful to talk with a counselor for support while at school.

Social Workers

Social workers are in a different profession entirely. Their job is to understand human behavior and help people function in society. These people have had many years of training and many, many hours of experience before they are certified. The National Association of Social Workers describes social workers as those who help people overcome the biggest challenges in life, like abuse, addiction, loss, educational problems, disability, and mental illness.

So, as you might expect, social workers get involved when problems are deeper, have greater consequences, and the possibility of crisis (and the need to prevent it) is very real. They can be found in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, and other agencies that serve people in need. To learn more about how social workers help individuals, groups and families, click here


So, now that we have counselors and social workers figured out, that brings us to the last group: psychologists. Psychologists and psychiatrists often cross into each other’s areas, but it is psychiatrists who are medical doctors and whose job it is to provide medical treatment for illnesses. Psychologists cannot offer medical treatment, but they do the same kinds of tasks that psychiatrists do. There is a great explanation of the difference between the two here

Typically, psychologists have five to seven years of study and many have doctorate degrees. Almost all have completed a one or two year internship. All psychologists must be licensed by a state in order to practice in that state.

Many school districts employ psychologists. In a school setting, the National Association of School Psychologists says that the goals of school psychologists include:

         Improve academic achievement through conducting psychological and academic assessments, managing behaviors, and helping to make better referrals to special education.

         Promote positive behavior and mental health by providing individual assessment, individual and group counseling, assisting with coping skills, making referrals and coordinating community services within the school.

         Support diverse learners by assessing needs, making plans for students with special needs, and adjusting classroom facilities to improve learning.

         Create safe, positive school climates by preventing bullying and other violence, implementing school-wide positive behavioral supports, and identifying at-risk students.

         Strengthen family-school partnerships through helping families understand their child’s learning and mental health needs, assisting in the navigation of special education processes, and helping children transition between school and community learning environments.

Which one is right for your child?

We hope this has helped you to better understand these three roles. If you have concerns about your child’s academics or other parts of her school life, it’s good to know that the counselor can intervene and support. It’s a great place to get the conversation started, and so is your pediatrician’s office. However, keep yourself open to the possibility that other highly-trained individuals might be better suited to your child’s needs. As always, choose to be your child’s greatest advocate so that he gets all the support he needs to be successful at school and at home.

All of this may seem like a lot to think about at a time when you already have seemingly countless decisions to make. We understand that. We’re here to help you navigate the changes in your life as you deal with your divorce. Please contact us anytime.

About Findling Law

Findling Law, PLC – 414 W. 5th St. Royal Oak, Michigan 48067

Phone:+1 (248) 399-3300
After hours emergency?+1 (707) 968-7347


I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

By:  Daniel Findling

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