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Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) - Are They Right for You?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)  - Are They Right for You?

People may think, mistakenly, that those with work-provided health insurance don’t need to seek out affordable mental health treatment. After all, the plans offered by the place of employment will cover every service you need, right?

Perhaps this level of coverage was available in the past, but currently, even with insurance plans provided by employers, people struggle to cover the escalating costs of medical and mental health care, or they face restrictive session limits. The excessive co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket fees associated with some plans deter people from even attempting to receive the care they need.

If you are currently working and need mental health treatment, consider accessing your employee assistance program. Often shortened to EAP, this treatment type can be more affordable than other counseling while offering a high level of care. As always, you can search the listings on OpenCounseling to find a variety of EAPs and other cost-effective mental health treatments.

What is an EAP?

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are any mental health treatments offered through or managed by a person’s place of employment. This definition is vague because EAPs differ greatly depending on the employer as some provide a comprehensive range of services to employees and others deliver only the most basic education related to mental health needs. Depending on your employer and your work status, you may have no EAP at all.

Most EAP services will be free. Other may be available for a nominal fee.

EAPs are based in the workplace, but they can address problems affecting your personal life as well as your work performance. Through a combination of therapy, case management, and informative seminars, EAPs can effectively treat:

  • Numerous mental health conditions like:
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Substance use disorders involving the problematic use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Relationship issues linked to people at home, work, school, or in the community.
  • Grief, loss, and bereavement problems linked to the death of a loved one.
  • High stress or poor stress management skills.

In addition to these services, EAP therapists can assist in resolving conflict in the workplace and can act as consultants for managers to solve organizational challenges. When necessary, employers request the skills of the EAP to help employees cope with tragedies in the workplace.

Employers may make the service available to all employees or require certain employees to attend mandatory EAP sessions. For example, if you fail a random drug test or show lower performance, you could be obligated to commit to treatment or risk your employment.

A common feature of EAPs is a limited duration of treatment. EAPs tend to be very short-term with programs authorizing only a few sessions each year or for the life of employment. EAPs do not usually focus on completely resolving mental health issues. Rather they hope to identify the concerns, assess the severity, educate the employee, and refer to other treatment options as needed.

EAPs provide an essential service to the employee, but the programs benefit the employer as well. By funding and staffing an EAP, the employer proactively identifies and treats a variety of issues before they result in damaging consequences for the company like poor job performance, missed deadlines, and accidents. By keeping the mental health and well-being of the employee in mind, the employer ensures limited disruptions in their daily operations.

How Employee Assistance Programs Work

EAPs lack consistency between employers and states, so identifying the way your individual employee assistance program works and operates will be a crucial starting point. Depending on the size and structure of your employer, you could encounter several variations for your EAP:

The HR Rep

Some employers may utilize their human resources (HR) representative in an EAP role. This option comes with several pros and cons. As a benefit, your HR rep probably has an intimate understanding of the day-to-day struggles within your workplace, which allows them to be more helpful and supportive. As a drawback, you might see your HR rep around the water cooler or depend on them for assistance in other areas like trainings or paychecks. Complicated relationships can stand in the way of helpful therapy.

EAP Departments

Larger companies might have independent EAP departments or units functioning within the organization. In some ways, this structure is like having an entire mental health agency operating within your company. You may never see these mental health professionals unless you need to consume services through the EAP, which makes the relationship less problematic. You may wonder, though, how much they are telling your supervisor.

Outside Agencies

Some employers, due to reasons involving confidentiality or finances, strictly outsource their EAP programs. Instead of using company employees in an EAP role, either private practice or community agencies are contracted to assess and treat employees in an EAP role. This situation offers the highest separation between work and therapy, but it may lack a thorough understanding of workplace problems.

Confidentiality and Vulnerability in EAPs

The most complex issue with EAPs is confidentiality. Confidentiality and privacy are required elements of effective therapy, and EAPs tend to blur the lines of who can receive information about your treatment and what types of information they can receive. Few people would feel comfortable with their boss or co-workers knowing the intimate details about their personal struggles, so EAPs can arouse a level of anxiety and suspicion.

People may worry their employer will take action against them if they admit to substance use, severe mental health issues, safety risks, or other factors affecting their work during an EAP session. They may wonder if the therapist is actually working for them as the client or for the employer who is paying for the service. The perceived danger may scare people away from trying an EAP or any other counseling.

In many cases, this anxiety is unwarranted. EAPs and licensed therapists working for EAPs withhold the same standards of confidentiality and privacy as all other therapists. No matter the circumstances, improper disclosure of information is unethical and illegal. Additionally, several laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from punishing employees based on any physical or mental disability. With these provisions, the law classifies mental health and substance abuse issues as disabilities, so any action against you could trigger legal action against your employer.

Getting Started with an EAP

So, you’ve decided to give your EAP a try. What do you do next? Well, that situation could be tricky to navigate. Since there is no universal way to access all EAPs, you will have to check with your employer about the program. Your HR rep or a trusted coworker could be valuable sources of information here. Most of the time, a quick phone call is all you need to gain enough knowledge to start the intake process.

To initiate services, you may need an in-depth evaluation with a mental health professional or only to complete a simple form. Whatever the procedure, don’t let the process keep you getting the treatment you deserve.

EAPs: Asking the Right Questions

Because EAPs are more complicated than other types of affordable mental health care, you will need to ask numerous, detailed questions to ensure the care is best for you. Ask:

  • Does this company have an EAP? Who is eligible?
  • What services are provided – individual, couples, group therapy?
  • What is the fee for these services?
  • How many services can I receive each year?
  • Who would my therapist be?
  • How is my confidentiality protected?
  • What information about my treatment is the employer privy to? Will I know when the therapist gives information?
  • Will the company fire me or penalize me for what I disclose during my appointments?
  • What happens if I need additional services after my EAP sessions end?
  • Will the company send me to rehab if I report problems with substance use?


Employee assistance programs (EAPs) represent another available option for affordable mental health counseling services. Though often free or inexpensive, these treatments are more complicated than others due to issues of confidentiality and information sharing. Always ask questions about your mental health treatments and always visit OpenCounseling as part of the journey. OpenCounseling offers incomparable information about the best affordable mental health options in your area.

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Eric Patterson
Posted on 03/05/2019 by Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor from the Pittsburgh area who aims to help his clients improve their mental health and lead better lives. For the past 5 years, Eric has written extensively on the topics of mental health and addiction for various print and online sites with the goal of providing accurate and engaging content. Outside of work, Eric loves spending time with his family, listing to indie rock music, and going for long runs in the summertime.