IF YOU ARE considering a career in social work or psychological counselling, decide first which area interests you and then gain the relevant education and experience. 'While both psychologists and social workers do counselling and therapy work, the former's training and work tends to be more specialised and requires a postgraduate degree,' said Ng Ho-yee, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong. 'A social worker can begin with a bachelor's degree in social work and seek further training in psychiatric areas, thus qualifying for more intensive work with clients with mental disorders,' added Dr Ng, who works in HKU's department of social work and social administration. By law, a social worker needs a recognised qualification before they can work. This could be an accredited post-secondary diploma or a degree in social work. In Hong Kong, there are six tertiary-level institutions offering appropriate qualifications. Practical training is also essential. 'Specialisation comes from experience,' said Cheung Kwok-chee, president of the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union. 'The big agencies, like the Family Welfare Society or Caritas, have in-service training for staff to specialise in things like family counselling or school social work. We know social work experience is very important after they graduate from university.' Most employers of applied or clinical psychologists demand at least a master's degree and some work experience. Dr Ng said that, apart from going into academia or administration, would-be psychologists can choose from three specialised areas of the discipline: clinical, educational, and industrial and organisational. 'On-the-job experience is important unless you are considering working only in academia,' said Vivien Chan, a clinical psychologist at FOCUS Psychological Enrichment Centre. 'It's not only important during the two years of training. In my opinion, clinical supervision is vital for the development of a psychologist, even in the first few years after starting to practise,' Ms Chan added.