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Employee Assistance Program: Is free counseling worth the price?

February 4, 2016

Many people rely upon their Employee Assistance Program to offer support and counseling when in need. However, while their EAP assigned counselor may appreciate aspects of the role, a recent study by the Ontario Association of Social Workers demonstrates some concerning issues and limitations:

1. “There was no training or preparation received… I was assumed to be ready and competent to take various types of referrals. In contracting with specific EAP companies, the primary “preparation” was reviewing and signing the service agreement! One company did offer monthly one-hour professional development that is accessed by teleconference; these are voluntary and were not necessarily orientation to EAP counselling.”

2. “I have never met the supervisors or case managers of Company A, B or C (who I work for). This feels depersonalized. The limits of 4 sessions (Company C) with option to request more makes for extra work on my part (begging for more time for clients). The 4-session limit is awful when it comes to a marriage breaking down and the couple are just going to “give it this one shot” before separating. The pay should be more, for the skill required to provide excellent service, especially as the EAP does not pay for my supervision, yet I need in-person supervision at times for their cases.”

3. “My frustration was that the dollar was held higher than the client. I’m also business-educated and know that this is a business and as such, the profit margin will win every time. This is why I’ve gone from working with 7 different EAPs to one (no exceptions). I just wish that there would be a better balance between the customer and the money.”

4. “I am told by one company, in particular, that I shouldn’t tell clients how many sessions they have but that we are simply in the business of offering short-term counselling, and there is pressure to keep the total of sessions at 4 hours or less even if they do have access to more…”

5. “[The client had] very complex medical problems. I was told to do solution-focused therapy, i.e. miracle questions. The supervisor did not understand the difficulties the client was having — social, emotional, psychological, financial, and I was told to do basic solution-focused therapy.”

I am frequently seeing those persons who have been burned by and have burned through their Employee Assistance Program counseling service.

This is not a reflection on the counselor, but certainly a reflection on the context in which service is provided.

While free to the employee, the employee still must ask if the service has value. The employee should also ask about the experience, training and approach of the counselor assigned and determine if there is a match with the issues to be addressed. Free may not be worth the price.

You can read the complete report here.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. It’s been my experience in the past while I was an outreach worker that most would not seek counselling from an eap worker simply for the fact that they could use information they disclosed to the worker may be used against them … Also, in my opinion a worker that is counselling a client should have valid counselling training or social worker training …

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  1. Dealing with The Ghost in Your Relationship | Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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