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The Impact of Employment Assistance Programmes: Do They Really Help?

Updated: 3 days ago

Mental Health Support at work

They seem like a really good idea and in many ways they are but not all Employment Assistance Programmes (EAP's) may be up to the job.

Full disclosure, alongside my private practice, I do also work in a freelance capacity for a well known EAP company. Many therapists in private practice do, as it's a way of getting a steady stream of clients without having to do the marketing, and also a great way of experiencing a wide variety of clients.

For a big company employing hundreds of people it is a great way of ticking the "mental health" box. Support your staff by paying a company that claims to have your staffs' best interests at heart. Most EAP's offer helplines, wellbeing apps along with the support of a qualified therapist. They are intended to help employees deal with any personal problems that might affect their wellbeing and therefore their performance at work.

So, what is there not to like?

Well, as ever, what starts out as a good idea then gets taken over by greed and cost cutting.

One EAP I enquired to work with wasn't too bothered by my experience or qualifications and was based in another country so wanted to pay me in dollars. As you can imagine the exchange rate meant that it wasn't exactly a good deal for my time. It concerned me that at my online interview they were more interested in what it was like in England than my expertise. I swiftly decided they were not for me.

However this company in particular is one that is doing a big advertising campaign at the moment and is slightly different to a EAP, in the fact that anyone can sign up, pay a monthly fee and access some sort of online support 24/7.

Now on the face of it that is excellent news because there is a lack of mental health support that is so easily accessible. However therapy and choosing a therapist is a very personal, its not something that someone else or even a computer can choose for you.

There has already been a documentary on this particular company and many therapists are leaving them as they don't feel fully supported but more importantly clients are being let down by either being mismatched or the therapist not even joining the online session at all!

The more classic style of EAP that you access through work can offer you a helpline, a wellbeing app and also 6 counselling sessions. All good so far, but I know of several people that have phoned and had an hour long assessment and chat on the phone but then have not been referred to a counsellor. They are left with a few links to try online and that's that.

The more cynical amongst us are suspecting that those on the helpline are being encouraged to keep the number of people referred to a counsellor to a minimum so the EAP company doesn't have to pay out to the therapist and therefore keep the money that the employers are paying out in good faith.

A recent BBC investigation stated that this was actually happening after talking to helpline counsellors from a leading EAP provider.. The counsellors they talked to said; the people getting in contact were experiencing a wide range of issues including trauma, bereavement, anxiety and work related stress. Most felt they needed therapy. However the counsellors were limited in the number of people they could refer to structured therapy sessions - around 20% of calls- due to company targets.

Now, it has to be said that sometimes a good 1 hour chat with someone is enough to help you feel better and more able to cope with life. But I would also question that is long enough to really get to the bottom of why the caller reached out for help in the first place and lets not forget the employer is paying for their staff to access counselling so it should be offered.

So do Employment Assistance Programmes really help? Overall it's great that the support is out there because at the end of the day that is what we need more of. But here's hoping it is the right support and that neither client or therapist is getting ripped off!

Cosy counselling room
How to choose the right therapist for you.

How to choose the right therapist for you.....

Check they are qualified with a recognised professional body, ie: BACP or NCPS.

Browse professional directories such as Counselling Directory and Psychology Today

See if the counsellor offers a free initial telephone chat

Go with your gut feeling, only you know what is right for you.

Kate Haskell

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