Here in the States, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is usually a benefit offered by your larger type corporations and state run organizations that offers free mental health and life management services should you find yourself in circumstances when life seems to be getting the better of you.

Who is eligible?

In most cases, full time employees with at least one year of service and their immediate family members such as a spouse or children are eligible to take advantage of the services offered by the EAP. In some instances, if you are the primary care taker of your parent, they too are eligible.

Naturally, this has raised some hackles when it comes to recognizing same sex marriage or a life partner situation and rules and bylaws will vary from plan to plan and state to state.

Most of the counseling is free and offered on a short term basis. You can usually get anywhere from six to eight visits on the company dime. After that, if you still feel the need to take advantage of such a program, consult your insurance provider to see what additional benefits they will provide and what costs they will absorb.

I have issues...

Call me old fashioned but what were once “problems” are now “issues” and these days we all seem to have to face “issues” at one time or another during our lives. EAP programs will usually address the following.

Relationship issues
Alcohol or drug abuse
Family/Marital issues
Financial matters
Grief counseling
Parenting concerns
Gambling issues

It may seem like a matter of semantics but I’ll leave the debate about just when an issue becomes a full blown problem for the experts to decide.

Who provides the service?

Usually your place of employment will have a list of licensed counselors for you to choose from depending on the nature of the issue .

How do I contact them?

Most employers who provide an EAP service have a confidential toll free number for you to call. In most cases, they will leave it up to you for you to contact them directly but if the problem, oops, I mean issue, becomes apparent in the workplace and is either affecting you or you co-workers performance, they might urge you to contact them. In some cases, if you fail to follow their friendly advice, disciplinary matters may be taken against you.

Will my boss know about it?

Since an EAP usually handles delicate and personal matters, most companies try to uphold to the strictest degree of confidentiality. No need to let gossip and innuendo pervade and pollute an already difficult situation.

Can I be fired for participating in the EAP?

Chances are you are more likely to be fired for NOT participating in the EAP if your performance and attendance starts to slip to such a degree for it to become unacceptable.

Some personal observations…

So far, 2005 has been a pretty rough stretch of road for me. There’s been a couple personal brushes with the grim reaper and the loss of two close friends. When you tack on being a single parent and broke half the time, life hasn’t been easy. I went to my first session with a counselor last night and talked about stuff that I would never bring up with even the closest of my friends. It’s that whole objectivity thing. Anyway, she says I seem “depressed”.

To that, I say, “No shit, tell me something I don’t know” but I’m keeping an open mind about the whole thing. Better to put my problems on the table and out in the open where someone will at least recognize them than to keep them hidden all safe and warm under the covers. We’ll see how it goes a week or so from now when round two begins.

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