Employee Assistance Counselling – Strategies for Counsellors
Article contributed by Anna-Maree Osborne, CEO of Anewu Counselling Services
Many more opportunities now exist for registered, qualified counsellor, particularly in the Employee Assistance Program(EAP) area. There are numerous large organisations who service various employers around Australia and overseas. These companies require both full time and consultant counsellors to provide services to the employees of their customer organisations. These employees have numerous conditions, diagnoses and concerns, including, but not limited, to anxiety, depression, relationship issues, child behavioural concerns, parenting issues, to grief and loss, and traumatic events. The purpose of EAP programs ideally is to assist employees to deal with emotional issues which may disrupt their productivity at work, cover duty of care concerns involved in WH&S policies, and provide a sense of well- being to make the workplace more harmonious. EAP is a time-limited short-term counselling service.
Employees are of course working individuals, and many are seeking assistance with work-related issues, but an equal number are making appointments for personal or family-related matters. In my experience with the EAP program over the last three years, when employees ring or make face to face appointments, concerning disciplinary action or bullying /harassment at work many individuals request “advice”. This ”advice” is, of course, is not easy to provide and may not be a knowledge area familiar to Counsellors. In addition, Counsellors may have no knowledge of these workers relationships or employers. Therefore, general themes of support, validation, self-care, attention to client well-being and referrals play a large part of the Counsellors toolbox in the EAP space.
Clearly, there is also a dual relationship between the service provided to clients and the service provided to employers (who fund sessions for their employees). Most employer’s expectations in my experience, indicate that they would not expect counsellors to recommend industrial relations action or grievance procedures outside of the company’s policies. Therefore, most “advice” would revolve around discussing with the Client their available information about their immediate Managers receptiveness to employees concerns, or HR’s availability for staff grievance procedures.
Personal issues are in many ways easier for the Counsellor to deal with as they are confidential except for demographic information, and therefore, solution-focused or narrative skills would normally be the favoured approach. Also, since most employee assistance program allows only three or four sessions it is important to use all the sessions in a planned manner. I have found that the following approach works well unless the client only requires only one session to clarify their thoughts before, say, a disciplinary meeting.
These possible steps are;
- First session – explanation of confidentiality of EAP Counselling, the gathering of demographic information, validation of feelings, assessment of mental health and identification of important areas of concern;
- Second session- strategies or interventions which may assist the employee based on the first session’s areas of highest concern. However, if the issues seem to be complex or traumatic then the best course of action may be to refer the person to their GP or to a Therapist for long-term therapy. If the employee is assessed as at risk of harm to themselves or others, it is important to inform the employee that it will be necessary to talk to someone who can assist such as their GP or a relative, or their psychiatrist if applicable. This referral action due to “duty of care” should then be relayed by notes on the portal or by email to the EAP provider for their information.
- The third session may be used to review coping strategies effectiveness and ascertain if any have been helpful, and what barriers the client sees into the future.
EAP clients either by phone or in person often mention workers compensation claims or other actions they may wish to take, including legal action. It is important to remember that the Counsellor is not an Advocate and are employed by the EAP provider, who is in turn employed by the employer, hence there is a potential conflict of interest. In these cases, I have found referring people to their internal HR Department or Line Managers is the most helpful strategy. In addition, using the Narrative strategy of the ”audience” by asking who in their family or friendship group could advise and support them is usually helpful.
Employee Assistance Counselling is a varied and interesting area which can be very specialised. Hence, it is important to understand what the employee assistance program provider that you are working for expects from you before you commence. Most EAP providers have extremely comprehensive website information with an outline of the services they provide to Employers and the services they expect of the consultant counsellors.