EAP counselling is a core element of employee assistance programmes (EAPs) in which counselling sessions serve as support to assist employees who are facing challenges in their lives. EAP counselling ensures employees and their families have immediate and direct access to confidential, solution-focused counselling services to help them navigate and overcome a variety of challenges with the support of a qualified Social Worker or Psychologist, at no cost to themselves. It’s important to note that EAP counselling is different from private counselling in that being part of an EAP, it is short-term and traditionally has had employee work performance as an emphasis.
What is EAP counselling?
EAP programmes focus primarily on improving the health and wellbeing of employees through short-term counselling in support of issues or difficulties they are experiencing. The nature of the challenges employees may be facing can be many and varied, ranging from alcohol or substance abuse to being emotionally or physically abused, through to depression and anxiety, stress and burnout or experiencing financial difficulties. During the counselling process, the counsellor will assist the individual to explore these issues and develop strategies to cope with, or resolve, their concerns.
“Using short-term therapy approaches can be helpful for individuals dealing with life stress, adjustment disorders, or wanting support in developing self-care or coping skills.”
What therapeutic approaches do EAP counsellors use?
Because EAP counselling entails a limited number of sessions, clinicians typically focus on specific, short-term therapy goals. Using short-term therapy approaches can be helpful for individuals dealing with life stress, adjustment disorders, or wanting support in developing self-care or coping skills.
Theoretical orientations that lend themselves to shorter therapy lengths include:
- Solution-Focused Therapy: This approach involves identifying an achievable, specific goal that is within the client’s control and can be achieved in a short amount of time.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: CBT involves identifying maladaptive or unrealistic thought patterns and changing our feelings and behaviours by addressing these thoughts. Treatment plans for CBT can be short-term where appropriate.
- Strengths-Based Therapy: This type of therapy involves identifying the client’s already existing strengths and maximizing the impact of these strengths on the client’s life.
If employees are experiencing moderate to severe depressive episodes, extreme anxiety, or manic or psychotic symptoms, an EAP likely will not provide sufficient sessions to treat their concerns or have the appropriate medical qualification to prescribe necessary medications. Additionally, if an individual has significant trauma history, an EAP will not be able to provide the level of support that they need.
What makes Solution-Focused Therapy effective?
Counselling can have a deep-rooted and long-lasting impact. While there are many approaches to counselling, in the world of EAP services, solution-focused counselling has been found to be the most effective mode for creating a powerful intervention and getting significant results in the short-term. Solution-focused counselling aims to identify and work towards a solution that is specific to an individual and their circumstances. What differentiates this type of counselling is that the emphasis is not placed so much on the history or the cause of the problem as much as on envisaging the best and most positive outcome for the issue.
Widening the scope of EAP counselling
Organisations are starting to understand the benefits of taking care of their employees’ wellbeing beyond just their health and wellness as it impacts their work lives from 9am to 5pm. In the new normal, where workplaces are fragmented and employees face the challenge of having to integrate their work and personal lives, EAP counselling can serve to support individuals to overcome a wide range of “new era” personal problems (many of which have been born out the need to survive protracted lockdowns, social distancing and wholesale uncertainty) along with issues that have typically been associated with EAP counselling, and that may have intensified during the pandemic. In this way, EAP counselling can help both employees and organisations in the development of a positive workplace culture that helps to facilitate a sense of belonging, even among employees who work remotely.
“In this way, EAP counselling can help both employees and organisations in the development of a positive workplace culture that helps to facilitate a sense of belonging, even among employees who work remotely.”
Here are four keys to broadening employee uptake of EAP counselling:
- Build awareness: With buy-in from leadership, put consistent effort into educating employees on the services your EAP offers and how to access support, through ongoing awareness and promotional campaigns. Find ways to share information about the EAP through your organisations usual modes of communication. EAP information can be shared when on-boarding new employees, on the company Intranet and in staff emails or newsletters throughout the year.
- Promote confidentiality and build trust: EAPs deal with highly personal issues and if your employees don’t trust your programme or service provider, they will not seek help. Reinforce the confidentiality message at every opportunity. By constantly repeating the message you can lessen mistrust in your EAP.
- Remove boundaries: Make EAP counselling services available to all staff members, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so that employees can access help easily, early on and no matter where they are based – working from the office, home or even a regional office in another province or country.
- Remove barriers: Remove any barriers to EAP counselling. For example, by guaranteeing flexibility so that employees can use EAP services during the workday and not be penalised for prioritising their mental health.
By providing trustworthy, readily available support, EAPs can help your employees to deal more effectively with their personal issues, early on, and prevent what could be a manageable issue from spiralling out of control. An EAP should be seen by your people as a 24/7 resource that can positively support them in their day to day lives whatever the issue – whether seemingly small or big.
- Photo by Alex Green