The difference between a Doctor of Human Services and a Doctor of Social Work

June 21, 2019

The Human Services and Social Work programs at Capella University both offer a professional doctorate: the Doctor of Human Services (DHS) and the Doctor of Social Work (DSW).

Capella faculty members Dinah Manns, EdD, Faculty Chair of Human Services and Research, and Rena Palloff, Associate Director of the DSW Program, reflect about what these degrees offer and potential career outcomes for each.

Target audience

“The DHS takes people to a kind of first-responder role,” says Manns. “They’ll assist during a crisis and advocate for resources. Human services encompasses a large range of services looking over the larger picture.” In a nutshell, the DHS graduate will be prepared to work with numerous people and organizations to provide an overarching array of services to meet a wide variety of needs.

Social work is one part of human services.  DSW graduates often work in administrative roles but also work directly with clients, assisting them to access various services and providing individual, group, and family counseling when appropriate.  Social workers are typically licensed.  Palloff adds, “On the DSW side, we coordinate services for individuals, families, communities, and organizations, working from a systems perspective across and with whole systems.”

There is overlap between the roles, as both organizations can advocate on behalf of needs for clients, or collaborate on them. Often human services professionals and social workers will collaborate to meet the needs of clients and communities and they often work in the same organizational settings.

Educational requirements

There are different educational requirements to enter the respective doctoral programs as well. “A candidate must have an MSW degree to get into the DSW program and many are licensed or working toward licensure,” says Palloff. “The DSW is designed to take the social worker to the next step in his or her career.”  The program focuses on leadership, supervision, and management, as well as the development of social policy, application of clinical theory, and social work practice issues.

The DHS also requires a master’s degree for admission, but it can be a master’s in Human Services, Social Services, or Behavioral Science.  Licensure is not typically a requirement of DHS professionals.  The DHS offers specializations in advanced program evaluation and data analytics or leadership and organizational management.

Moving into leadership

One thing these two professional doctorates have in common is that they are useful in moving into leadership or executive roles. “It’s not always required, but we’re seeing more and more of a need for a DSW degree to move into agency or organizational leadership,” says Palloff.

Manns agrees on the human services side. “The DHS is geared to supervisors or mid-managers who want to become executives or officers,” she says. “It gives an edge for those roles. It levels the playing field.”

DSW Careers to Explore*

Palloff notes that graduates with DSW degrees can go into advanced clinical practice, or they can look into leadership roles, policy-making, or teaching at the university level. Among the roles possible for DSW graduates are: clinical social workers, part- or full-time social work faculty, clinical or nonprofit managers or supervisors, or clinical or nonprofit directors. These positions take place in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, insurance companies, service organizations, academia, and government offices.

DHS careers to explore*

Manns points to a wide array of career possibilities on the human services side. “Graduates can become leaders or executives in numerous settings including a nonprofit agency, private or for-profit social service company, clinic, or religious organization, to name a few,” she says. Potential careers include social services manager or director, executive director, program manager or director, and part- and full-time faculty member.

Both programs develop skills and knowledge needed to help people in different ways. Before deciding which path to take, be sure to explore the curriculum and outcomes of each, and talk to an enrollment counselor who can help guide you to the program that will best help you meet your goals.

Learn more about online Doctor of Human Services and Doctor of Social Work degrees at Capella University.

*These are examples intended to serve as a general guide. Some positions may prefer or even require previous experience, licensure, certifications, and/or other designations along with a degree. Because many factors determine what position an individual may attain, Capella cannot guarantee that a graduate will secure any specific job title, a promotion, salary increase, or other career outcome. We encourage you to research requirements for your job target and career goals.

Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program.

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