Employee Assistance Program (EAP) myth-busting
Last month, we looked at how lack of awareness or education can be a barrier to beneficial mental health support. In the same way, misconceptions about Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services can keep employees from taking advantage of their EAP benefits.
Supervisors and managers are uniquely positioned to counteract myths with truths when talking with employees about EAP services. Here’s four common areas where we commonly hear myths, and truths you can lean on when sharing EAP resources with your employees.
Qualified and diverse counselors
EAP counselors are master’s level professionals, licensed to provide mental health services. They usually have their own private practices or practice with a group.
Some employees may feel uncertain about whether an EAP counselor can identify and take seriously the issues they face. This includes employees who are impacted by systemic racism and racist violence.
Over the last few years, the Washington State EAP has diversified its provider network: 32% of EAP providers now identify as people of color. While about 78% of state cabinet agency employees currently identify as white, 34% of Washingtonians are people of color. This means our provider network is more reflective of the people served by Washington state agencies.
Counseling covers a wide range of concerns
Like other practitioners, EAP counselors can help employees with personal concerns, such as addiction and recovery, anxiety and depression, trauma, grief/loss, and family relationships. But EAP counselors have the added benefit of familiarity with public service issues and can help with workplace concerns, conflicts, and stress management.
So when don’t you need an EAP counselor? EAP services are best used to respond to needs of employees and supervisors. EAP services aren’t usually needed for preventive “just in case” situations, like stressful meetings. It’s OK for people to feel emotions and have the opportunity to move through them on their own.
Short-term sessions focused on problem-solving
When employees hear the word “counseling,” they may think of longer-term counseling over a period of months or years. EAP counseling differs in two ways:
- EAP counseling is short-term. This benefit provides up to three sessions per concern with an EAP counselor, who will focus on the employee’s immediate concern. This is different than a longer-term counselor who becomes more familiar with the employee’s personal history over time.
- EAP counseling is focused on problem-solving. It’s our goal to help employees understand the issue they’re facing and get connected to helpful resources. That could include longer-term counseling, but it could also be supportive resources in their community.
Confidential visits and records
EAP counseling is confidential. EAP records are separate from any state system. Only EAP staff can access these records. Supervisors, managers, and HR do not have access to EAP records. We do not report back to the employer about the things discussed in private counseling conversations.
There are a few very specific situations under which the EAP — or any mental health practitioner — must release confidential information, including abuse or neglect, threats to health or safety, and subpoena or court order.
If an employee is formally referred to the EAP by their agency management due to poor job performance, we give agency management only the following information:
- Whether or not the referred employee made an appointment
- The date and time the employee arrived and left
- Whether the employee agreed to follow the advice of counselors
- Whether further appointments were scheduled
To learn more about how we protect privacy and the limited exceptions to confidentiality, review the Notice of Privacy Practice for the Washington State EAP.
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The Washington State Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential program created to promote the health, safety and well-being of public service employees and their household adult family members. The EAP is available to provide confidential and expert consultation in a variety of areas. Reach out to EAP online or by calling 877–313–4455. To find out if the Washington State EAP serves your agency or organization, contact your supervisor or human resources department.
Links to external websites are provided as a convenience. The Employee Assistance Program and the Department of Enterprise Services do not endorse the content, services, or viewpoints found at these external sites. Information is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the counsel or advice of a qualified health or legal professional. For further help, questions, or referral to community resources for specific problems or personal concerns, contact the EAP or other qualified professional.