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10 things everyone should know about Employee Assistance Programs

03 September 2019 - Dr Jan Orman

What do you know about Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and Providers? It’s all too easy as an employee or even as a mental health service provider to overlook the availability of EAPs, but they can provide useful and affordable support for many people facing mental health challenges in the workforce.

You are probably aware that most large employers have contracts with Employee Assistance Providers to provide support for their workers. It’s entirely possible that that is all you know! Perhaps your organisation has such an arrangement that you are blissfully unaware of.

Here are a few important things about EAP programs and providers that might be helpful for you to know:

1. Services provided by EAPs vary from organisation to organisation depending on the contract the employer has with the EAP. Managers and employees need to know what the personal entitlement is. On average employees are entitled to somewhere between 3 and 6 sessions a year. The contract may also include close family members as well as the employee, so couples counselling may be possible under some contracts.

2. EAPs do not function as a hotline in emergency situations. They do not provide a replacement for 000 but can provide useful critical incident response services once the crisis is over. An EAP can provide this support to both those directly impacted by a crisis and those vicariously impacted.

3. EAPs use a short-term solution-focused model that is not usually suitable for children but, at times, some EAPs will respond with a clinical intake call to see if it is appropriate to make an exception to this general rule. Rather than seeing children, most EAPs encourage employees to seek EAP support to discuss issues around everyday parenting or with challenges in supporting a child with mental health related problems.

4. EAPs work through booking centres who assist callers in booking face-to-face or telephone counselling appointments. If the employee does not feel the first clinician they are referred to is the right fit for them, they are entitled and, in fact, encouraged to request to book their next appointment with a different clinician until they find someone they connect with. It’s worth remembering that if someone requires urgent support, they can call the EAP and ask for the soonest possible phone appointment, bearing in mind that EAP centres do not function like a hotline or 000, so help is unlikely to be available immediately.

5. Manager support calls are an important but little-used aspect of EAP services. Managers concerned about a team member can phone the EAP for advice about what to do and how to refer that team member for help. In most contracts these support calls are unlimited and do not impinge on the manager’s personal entitlement for EAP sessions. They are designed to help managers support their team’s well-being. Using this facility will also give managers a clear idea of how the system works.

6. EAPs contract the clinicians who provide the services and there are regulations around the qualifications those clinicians must have. Most EAP providers only employ qualified social workers or psychologists with at least 5 years post-graduate experience.

7. Most EAPs can provide phone counselling which can be more suitable for many people in remote situations or for those who are time poor.

8. EAPs are very useful for people in the workforce who do not qualify for Medicare.

9. There is no need to wait until something is very wrong. EAPs are ideal places to receive coaching. You may want to use them to help manage behavioural change around smoking or weight management for example, or to help with general lack of enthusiasm for work or even for life. EAP’s can also support you to better manage your relationships both at work and outside work, as well as supporting your general well-being.

10. It is important that employees and managers all know who their EAP provider is, how to access them and exactly what their EAP can provide. Encourage people to put the EAP’s contact number in their phone for future reference.


Don’t wait for an emergency! Get to know what the EAPs can offer and make use of them (or encourage your patients to make use of them) early, before more significant problems arise.


Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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