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By Tara Kuther, Ph.D.May 10, 2007
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I’d go for the MSW– IMO, Master’s level SW’ers have many more job options than do MFT’s (Marriage & Family Therapists, in my state).
I graduate with my MSW in … ummm, 2 weeks, so I’m a bit biased, but I did choose my path carefully… I weighed the licensing requirements (i.e. the # of hours you need to get licensed, the types and qty. of hours you need to fulfill the requirements, etc), the costs of licensing & supervision, and the earning potential. SW’ers start out lower, but I think there’s more growth potential.
You can check for the licensing req’s at your state’s board of behavioral sciences. While you’re looking, check out job boards, the employment pages of your favorite county or nonprofit, etc., see what they rquire, what they offer, what your potential is.
I think there are definitely more options– SW’ers can do counseling, or can go into gov’t, non-profit, educational, welfare, social svc., etc… fields.
MFT’s… well, they pretty much counsel. They do it very well, and get an excellent education, but I just want more options. I’m not young, either, I will be (ack) 41 this summer, so it’s not like I have decades to “do” all those different things. i’m just really pragmatic about the job market. (Might just be my neck of the woods. San Francisco is a hotbed of opportunity– and pay is decent. I guess that’s something else to consider– are you mobile? You may need to focus on the quality of the potential in your area, or you may be able to spread your net & increase your opportunity that way.)
One thing you might consider– what is your theoretical orientation? How do you see the world? (How do you *want* to see it??)
SW’ers approach things from a person-in-environment perspective, very systemic, very strengths-based. Not too medical-model.
MFT’s… well, I don’t have that education, so I’m no expert. I’ve worked with MFT’s, though– it seems like they tend to see the world & its people much more clinically than I do (and I came from medicine, where everyone is just a sore throat or an appendix, right?)– they seem more problem-focused (vs solution-focused). More individual-oriented, rather than systems-oriented. But maybe THAT’S just me … it’s all so subjective.
Check it out, talk to SW’ers, to MFT’s. Talk to your desired programs (the school/s), but DO take what they tell you with a grain of salt– they’re academics, will sell you *their* chosen profession as the end-all be-all. That’s fine, but I think professors tend to really really love what they do, & think it’s perfect for everyone… semi-blind to the world outside the ivy-covered walls.
And– look at the programs you’re considering– talk to the students, see how they like their education, what they’re doing. I know that this whole thing was NOT what I was expecting (though I love what I do)– but I sort of had to make my program into what I needed it to be. It meant a lot more extra work on my part, but I (think) it’s going to be worth it.
Oh yeah– check into where you might be sent to do your clinical hours–programs know where they usually send their practicum students. It changes a bit from year to year, but they’ll try to tell you that they can’t POSSIBLY predict next year’s placements. Sure– they’ve had supervision in the same agencies for the last 12 years– it’s going to stop now? This is important, though, because where you intern really affects how you see yourself as a professional, and how you approach your work. Also, it has a direct effect on the sorts of skills you’ll get, which will likewise affect what jobs you’ll be qualified for when you graduate.
One last thing– do you want to finish school with a thesis or with a comprehensive exam– check out the options in each program. (Most of the ppl in my program opt for the exam.) I was thesis-track, but had a slight disaster & ended up taking the exam. But– *I’m* graduating… more than I can say for a good portion of my thesis-writing peers. That is something to consider. (I thought my-friend-the-the-MD who advised me to just take the exam was full of it… but he spot-on predicted the rate of thesis-completers.)
Basta! Buena suerte!
PS What do you do now? What do you want to do with your degree, anyway? I’m just assuming that you want to do psychotherapy, based on your alternatives.
oh, yeah– my plan is to go back & get my PhD (psych)-I guess when I get bored w/ being out of school…
…or when I’ve seen my family for more than 3 hours in a row…
… or when I can afford to live this madcap 9whee!) student life again…
But I don’t foresee any probs with getting into a program w/ an MSW vs an MFT. Looked into that, too.
I can’t speak for job/hiring statistics or pay differential between the two fields, but in determining which field to choose, it is important to check out graduate programs first.
Questions to ask yourself:
1. What type of job do I see myself having? Hospital/facility-based social work? Behavior analyst? School (guidance) or higher education counselor? EAP/managed care? Private or group practitioner? Individual, group, or family therapist? Community mental health practitioner? Career counselor? Vocational rehabilitation counselor? Substance abuse and alcohol counselor? One may find either the M.S.W. or the Master’s in Counseling more or less applicable to any of these fields based on one’s personal approach to helping others. More importantly, each of these fields may or may not have specialty credentials – check the state department of education for regulations on school counselor certification, or the national board of certification in each of these specialties.
2. What is my theoretical orientation (not something you will have completely figured out before immersing yourself in the field)? Am I a family systems person? Person-centered? Solution-focused? Psychodynamic? Cognitive-behavioral? Eclectic (which you will probably end up becoming)? Any and all of these approaches will be studied in some level of detail whether you choose a program in social work, counseling, or marriage and family therapy.
3. Which graduate program is most in line with my personal and professional goals as a helping professional? Contact the department head for an informational session to determine the program’s academic/theoretical emphasis.
Yes, the MSW degree is probably more widely recognized – the specialty has been around a little longer in its current form than master’s level counseling. Programs are typically more standardized in that most of them prepare the graduate for state license as an independent practitioner in much the same way (see NASW standards).
The field of social work sees the individual as interacting within their social environment and emphasizes the importance of building social networks and connecting the individual with community resources and the world around them.
On the other hand, the field of counseling focuses first on understanding the self and is somewhat more rooted in psychological principles (the study of the mind, principles of learning and behavior, etc.). Nonetheless, there is a great deal of overlap between disciplines, or so it seems. Just as in the field of social work, the practitioner can uphold any number of different theoretical orientations. In my opinion, there are probably more differences between the practitioners within each field than there are between the two fields themselves.
If entering a graduate counseling program, be SURE the program prepares you for state licensure (if this is your pursuit), as now most every state has a licensure act to prepare counselors for independent practice, much like social workers. If entering a counseling program, look for the CACREP credential – chances are, it is your best bet in preparing you for licensure and marketability. These days, graduate counseling programs have (or should have) a planned curriculum of at least 48 credits and upwards of 60 and beyond. I recommend checking the NBCC; the NCC is currently the standard national certification for the field of counseling and a step along the way toward obtaining state licensure (at least in PA).
Most insurance companies will recognize your state’s counseling license (LPC, LCPC, LMHC – depending on the state) as being just as valid and worthy of reimbursement as the the social work license (LSW, LCSW, LISW – depending on the state). So be sure to check your graduate program and your state board of occupational affairs for licensing regulations, testing requirements, and academic and professional experience prerequisites.
In the end, it will be important to engage in lifelong professional development and to obtain the proper credentials to be as effective and as satisfied in your work as possible.
Nonetheless, when seeking a job, your employer will want to know about your mission and how you operate as a helping professional, rather than just the letters after your name.
Thank you for your comment. You have provided more than enough information about both fields.
What about entering a graduate program with a dual degree, for example an MSW/Gerontology Degree, MSW/Business Degree. Most graduate schools of Social Work have a least two or three dual degree programs. Columbia University has 9 dual degree programs with their MSW degrees, and the University of Maryland has at least 4 dual degree programs. I don’t know what school you’re going to but you should check out and find out if they offer a dual degree program. There are some MSW programs that even offer a dual MSW and chemical dependency degree. Good Luck.
Do you want clinical skills or not? A CACREP Accredited counseling program (doctoral or master’s) is second to none. Master’s level included four separate clinical components: prepracticum skills, practicum, first and second internship. Most MSW programs have only one internship without a course in prepracticum skills! (Kind of like flying a 747 by the seat of your pants!) Many of these programs are only nine months in length which NASW seems not to have a problem with. . . .
Hm…I’m in an MSW program. We are required to do two internships – one for 420 hours and one for 700 hours. So to say that a counseling program requires 3 or 4 internships might be true, but how many total hours of experience is that? Some people from counseling programs at the same internship with me need far less hours.
I am doing my internship/practicum in a psychotherapeutic (mental health outpatient) setting. I work with about ten other interns, all from different programs and working on various graduate degrees (one MFT, some masters in counseling, etc).
Out of all of these, the MSW students have to do the most practicum hours.
That is very big decision to make. Being a social worker is hard, but It will surely give you experience that you will never forget. It is up to you if you want to be one of the people who care for other people…
Overall, with all of these disciplines LSW, or MFT, etc.
doesn’t matter you have to help take care of another period in some kind of way. Systematically or clinically, which ever fits your style and gets the job done, and helps get the person on track, then that is what you need to be doing for the greater good.. Good luck all
well this is an old post, but I was looking up the subject, so I might help someone else on this quest. Nov. ’09 I completed an M.A. in professional counseling and have been accruing hours toward the 2000 hrs my states requires to become licensed (LPC). I regret getting this degree because I do not want to have a private practice but want to work for an agency. Agencies and gov’t jobs want MSW/LCSW, etc. I am a vet and want a federal job – I have to go back and get an MSW to get those jobs. Also, federal jobs will allow an LCSW apply for jobs I need to have a Ph.d in psychology. SO, I’m going back to school and will consider the MSW my Ph.d. check out http://www.usajobs.gov if your interested in federal jobs. an LPC can only be a psych tech, they want social workers as do hospitals and agencies.
I would have to agree with Ronni. I have a masters in mental health counseling and I am a LMHC. ANd i wish that I have gotten my LMSW. I too am going to have to go back and get my MSW and look at that, as my PHD.
Good Luck everyone.
Until recently, licensed counselors were not eligible to work for the VA or receive coverage through TRICARE. Although, through new federal legislation, LPCs and LMHCs now have approval to work for the federal government. Check usajobs.gov — these jobs do exist! — do a keyword search for your credential. The next hurdle will be for licensed counselors to receive coverage through Medicare.
For those with lingering doubts, there are still numerous opportunities at the local agency level, where licensed counselors are reimbursed at the same rate as other licensed mental health professionals by commercial and public insurance payors. Indeed, LPCs and LMHCs are beginning to receive more visibility and equal treatment in our ever-evolving healthcare system.
Nonetheless, it is never a bad idea to improve you skillset and increase your marketability by going back to school. Good luck in finding jobs that pay off during these tough times. Your services will always be needed!
Thanks for this topic and comments. I am in the midst of making decision on getting a MSW or a MA in Theology with focus on spiritual care and counselling. I have Christian worldview and therefore would like to get educated in seminary first, and then perhaps follow by a MSW. I plan to get advice from a counsellor and a social worker that know me well. I wish I have time to finish it all.
As your post was year ago. Let us know how it works out for you.
I basically went with what I could tolerate which was an MA in holistic counseling. I looked into social work and it felt very bland and clinical to me. I do wish I had gotten my MSW…but I think schooling would have been less interesting to me, and perhaps not completely in line with my world view. There are definitely more job options though. Jason I hope you are right about LPC’s gaining more visibility/opportunity.
Hey, anyone else in PA? Do I need 48 credits master’s or a 6o credit master’s to get licensed. I have looked at the regs and it isn’t completely clear to me.
Rachel Carlson, I am currently deciding between going for a MSW or a program at CalU (in PA) leading to a LPC and am wondering the same question. The LPC track only has 48 credits currently where the MSW track has 60.
Would love to hear what you’ve learned.
@Sally, why not check out Liberty University if you are interested in Christian counseling?
@Sally, Why not consider Liberty University if you are interested in Christian counseling? That is where I am pursuing my M.A. in Professional Counseling and they have an excellent program.
Read all the posts so far. I was accepted into the MSW program at a local university, but was diagnosed with a brain tumor before I could begin. I was “forced” to go for a Masters in Mental Health Counseling through a CACREP accredited program. I have never regretted it. We learned much about the person-in-environment approach and were taught to look not only into the “self,” but also the environment in which the “self” interacts, to be advocates for our clients in their environments when we can, and to keep social justice at the forefront. We were also taught much about the systems model for family counseling. I have noticed in my state that there is an elitist attitude that comes from the MSW’s towards the LCPC’s. I have had conversations with MSW’s who insist that their program was more strenuous, more intern hours, more credit hours, etc. CACREP programs have answered that discrepancy, and my program met the same requirements as the MSW’s, but you cannot tell them that! They seem to want to hang onto their superiority. This is just my experience in my state, but I am glad I did not become one of them.
I have never been so confused in my life! I am so stuck on Masters in Counsel or Masters in SW. I guess it is a personal choice but at this point I am in acronym overload… I live in a small area with limited career opportunities. I just don’t wan to limit myself or put a cap on my abilities.
Jennifer, I am in the same boat, yet have researched a lot and I suggest MSW for you. You mentioned that you are in a small community and in order for you to get out you should always consider the reciprocity of other states (the transfer of your license). MSW for sure!
@Linda, In PA, 60 graduate credits are required for the LPC credential. If your program only offers 48 (much like my program at WCU), you will need 12 additional credits as part of a planned program. (Check the state board’s website: )
The benefit is that you can graduate with 48 and begin to accrue supervision hours. By the time you earn your remaining 12, you’ll have had enough time to complete your 2000 hours to become licensure eligible.
Correction: 3600 hours of postgraduate supervised hours are required over a period of 2 years to become licensure eligible in PA, as the regulations read.
I had the biggest dilema of my life recently, I was accepted to a Masters in Counselling and a two year Bachelor/Masters of social work at prestigious Canadian university. I did an undergraduate degree in psychology, and always thought I wanted to pursue a MA in psychology. However, I realized that after talking to many people, there are limited job opportunities, so I decided to go for the MSW. I have yet to begin, but believe this was the right choice for me. Two of my friends who graduate from the MA in counselling have said the job opportunities are quite limited, and that you need a PhD. I don’t want to be in school forever! With a MSW, many more career opportunities are available, from what I know. Let’s hope I made the right choice!
Hi what did you decide? I have the same question but am in Australia. Im feeling like counselling is more where I want to be but jobs are more likely and (unless I want to go into private practice straight away) there we more opportunities to progress in a career. Ugh. SW seems dry. I wish there was a Postgrad qual that covered both adequately!
Clinical Social Workers work form a systematic view of clients.
Hence words social worker as in to work with socially .
Professional Counselors work to from a client focused view of clients. Hence the word counselor as in to counsel.
I am personally more interested in the systematic view – but each have their place and time – and thus each does not have their place and time too.
All the Best – choose wisely.
I had the same question in my mind when I was picking a grad school. And there are a lot of good answers above. I did not understand the full intention for each degree and after being in the field for some time I finally get it.
Psychiatrist are MD’s that specialize in mental disorders… (way more to it than that but thatís what you need to know for this)
Psychologist are mostly research based and you can have Clinical Psychologist which are more like counselors with a focus on more difficult disabilities like MRDD…
Counselors (PCC or MFT) do mostly therapy and counseling with an approach of treatment for a change…
Social workers are the Liberal Arts of Social services. They can do what counselors do but are not as clinical, they can work as Case workers and managers and do very little therapy and focus on individuals and their environment.
It comes down to what you want to do. I am a PCC and I don’t want all of the other options that an SW can have because that is not what I wanted to do. The best way I can explain it as decide what it is that you want to do and if you want general go SW, if you want counseling, research, or MD then pick accordingly. Yes you can be a counselor as a SW but it like going to a general practitioner for brain surgery. Sure they know a lot about the brain but that’s not their specialty.
I hope this helps. It also important to know these differences while working with each person from different fields because its easy to get wrapped up in using the same terminology but forgetting that they mean it in a different way.
Like as a PCC I believe change happens when someone wants to change and chooses to change for themselves but my SW coworker says that change happens even when you are forced to change. So she may believe that someone is in Action when I have them in Pre-contemplation (stages of change model).
I recently received my LMSW in the state of Texas. I can not go into independent practice until I receive my LCSW. As a LMSW, I can do everything a LPC can do except diagnose. While my options may be limited in that sense, I can practice in a wide array of settings outside of mental health. For the past three years, I have worked (unlicensed) in community mental health settings alongside LPC’s and other LMHP’s for which I have been overworked and poorly compensated. Here in TX, mental health funding is low (we’re 50th in the nation). Mental Health jobs don’t pay well and there’s not much room for growth. LPC’s and LMFT’s can really only work in community mental health or counseling agencies. Unless you know someone who has a practice and you can work for them as a LMFT or LPC, you’re better off getting a MSW and having job options. Recently, I found a job in hospice and enjoy a rewarding career and salary. Eventually, I do plan to earn my LCSW and have a private practice, but for now I think I made the right decision by getting a master’s in social work versus some sort of counseling psychology. While working in mental health is ideal, in this economic climate it is not. LMFT and LPC licenses are very specific in that community mental health or counseling are the only areas in which one will work; however, a license in social work provides a broader spectrum for employment. Mental health and counseling are just two aspects of social work. Hospitals and hospice agencies are not hiring LPCs and LMFTs here in Texas, but they compensate the best for social workers whose training does not limit them to one specification.
This is my experience and opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. I will say that I received a job within a month of having my license; whereas, most of my LPC co-workers struggle to find jobs.
Rob, I live in Texas as well and you are right hospitals and hospice agencies do not hire LPCs and LMFTs. But the job boards are full of MSW, LMSW, and LCSW positions. I have been accepted to TCU MEd LPC program but I am going to get a MSW instead. After completing the MSW program I can still sit for the LPC & LMFT (in TX without additional schooling). If I go this route I will have all my bases covered.
I am trying to determine if SW is best for me. I have my M.Ed in agency counseling but never got my license. I went straight into teaching Emotionally Disabled. Now I regret not getting licensed because here in Mississippi my time has run out to get licensed. I do not want to teach any longer, but I think I want to work with PTSD clients. I’ve been reading these posts, learning a lot. Anyone have advice for me
I’ve appreciated this conversation. Like many of you, I am contemplating whether to get my MSW or go the Counseling route. I’ve appreciated the comments about choosing based on what you want to do. Yes, there is a place for wisdom in the choosing process, especially with our economy, but if you don’t enjoy it than the schooling and daily grind will get to you faster. I don’t want to wake up one day dreading to help people. Both areas are strenuous enough.
What I want to do with my degree specifically is to counsel missionaries and ministry leaders on the field. It’s a relatively new realm and so not a lot of help is out there as far as what education fits that career best. I would also want the ability to meet the bills as the other part of my goal is more ministry based. So, I need a flexible degree. Social Work seems more stable, but I think I answered my own question that maybe Counseling is for me.
WOW ! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU, ALL !!!!
Am finding the MSW vs. MPC question a HUGE challenge and HOPING to get some REAL HELP SOON – just some sense of CLARITY on which is the wisest choice for me. Am 60+ now. Coming to this with degrees in language and linguistics and a PhD in Philosophy as well as 10 years of volunteer counseling through Hospice and as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman – nothing of which can be parlayed into employment in GRIEF AND LOSS COUNSELING (my primary interest). My personal orientation is definitely the individual, BUT am keenly aware of the need to accept that individual as interconnected with the world and especially in relationship to other individuals. Thus, though my personal orientation draws me much more strongly to the MPC, I recognize the value of the MSW orientation. I ALSO NEED TO GET EMPLOYED DOING THIS WORK AND DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF DECADES TO SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT JOB. I ALSO WANT MOST TO OFFER COUNSELING TO THE UNDERSERVED (e.g. jails, mental health wellness centers, long-term care facilities.) Clearly, what I WANT is the MPC curriculum with the greater employment flexibility and popularity of the MSW.
Anyone else out there dealing with this kind of dilemma?
WISH YOU ALL BOTH THE DECISION THAT’S BEST FOR YOU AND AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND DO BEST FOR YOUR OWN AND THE COMMON BENEFIT !!!!!
Just couple days ago, I was comparing the differences between Counseling and Social Work. A MHC (Mental Health Counselor) made a comment on Youtube recommending MSW over a Counseling degree. She stated that a “SW can still counsel people and have more variety in job options” (emphasis added). It was because of the comment that got me more curious. Now I’m here and feel very blessed to read the above posts. No wonder why there are more MSW programs than Counseling degrees. Overall, I want a job where I can help people in any way possible. Thanks again to all of you who contributed to this forum. I look forward to start MSW early next year.
I would do the counseling. SWers while are licensed to perform therapy, I wouldn’t recommend or go to a SWer for counseling.
I am an LPC and a Ph.D. Candidate in human services. In my state there are more LMSW jobs. I have been unemployed for several months. I wish I had studied SW, public admin, or management. It boils down to what your goals are. I realized therapy alone was not enough for some of the clients I had, they needed advocacy and in some instances there needs to be greater collaboration across and within human services organizations.
But if anyone is going to be a counselor, join the national and local groups and lobby for change. Counselors can do everything SW do…with more legislation we can get more access to jobs.
Thanks in advance for anyone who has insight to share for my plight…I’m 39 and currently have a B.S. in Health Promotion/Exercise Science + a M.S. in Experiential Education/Adventure Pursuits. After working in various settings I’ve woven a tapestry of experiences in health/fitness programming and education, adventure-based counseling (residential treatment), and now I’m back in public school education (high school, 5yrs as H/PE teacher) seeing a GREAT need for more emphasis/services to meet the mental health needs of today’s teens. I’m curious about whether the MSW education/credential would help me (a) offer more to our students here and (b) provide some leverage to branch-out and possibly relocate (ie; to work again in a therapeutic setting). What should I consider at this juncture as I contemplate adding social work/counseling to my quiver? (mobility? salary vs. cost of another degree? phD?) Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom!
Rob and Yolanda! I’m in Texas too and looking at the difference between LPC and LMSW programs. I want to keep job options open, but am really interested in counseling. So I was thrilled to read you can still sit for the LPC if you have a MSW. Can you diagnose if you are a LCSW?
After reading what everyone else has written, I feel like I need to ask a few questions myself…
I am also trying to decide between Masters in Counseling vs. MSW. I am looking at doing an online degree either way. In the future I am more interested in working in private practice/therapy, and not so much with the government; HOWEVER, I do plan to move in the future, so reciprocity is important as well. As far as curriculum is concerned, the Counseling curriculum seems so much more interesting to me than SW curriculum (which I think is very important when doing an online program).
I do not want to limit my job opportunities, but as I said I am more interested in working in private practice/therapy. Can anyone shed light on any of the following issues:
-Transferring LPC license and/or LCSW license between different states? Difficulties or not they have encountered either way?
-Pros or cons of either license?
-Reimbursement by insurance companies/overall salaries?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
I am in my last year of MSW program. My thoughts and advice are below. . .
I was once admitted and enrolled in a Counseling Psychology Masters program. I studied for the GRE and was proud to be in a small program which I felt was superior to others. Then after a year, I switched out of AS SOON as I figured out that my options were very limited with a Masters in Psychology. If I were to pursue a PhD… it would have been different, but I have no desire!
I work in a healthcare and social service field currently and everyday I am reassured my transfer to the MSW was the best option. One day I will have small kids and may want the oppurtunity to work contingent at a hospital – with a MSW I can. One day I may want to work for a childrens home-based therapy agency (like my internship) and with a MSW I can. I am able to work in many different avenues with a MSW and in the state of Michigan at least certain health insurance prefer MSW for reimbursements (hence the reason many organzations seek to hire MSWs).
In the end all 3 degrees are similar, counseling, pshchology, and social work. Of course the practice and theories may vary but when in the field, you will be shoulder to shoulder to any human service professional. A difference I noticed is the psychology masters was focused a lot on diagnosing from the DSM. MSW has been broad scale of education (or as my Grandma might say, “Jack of All Trades”). Dont forget the option for continuing education as well, I attend PLENTY of trainings for work and each one is a boost to my portfolio. If you want to diagnose individuals in a private practice – do not get a MSW. If you want to help others, in various settings, dont stress and just get the MSW.
Thanks to all of you for your advice and insight. I am currently struggling with this very decision- MSW or Masters in Counseling. I recognize that the MSW seems to be a broader degree with more employment opportunities but I also have to be practical. I’m a mother of 3 in my mid thirties, just completed my bachelors degree (part time took nearly 8 years!) and I need to consider the time it will take to finish a masters program. Online is a must although I recognize that both programs require field-practicum time. My field of interest is children and families, in particularly in a school setting. Can anyone offer any insight/guidance regarding this area? Benefits of one degree vs. the other in this area? Also, I live in Virginia but a move to another state is not out of the realm of possibilities so I also have to consider licensure issues. Any suggestions/help is greatly appreciated.
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