Employee assistance counselors offer support to individuals who are dealing with personal concerns that impact work. EAP services can improve your overall well-being and are often free.

Many organizations offer employee assistance programs that promote employees’ health and well-being. These programs cover various services, from brief mental health therapy to helping organizations manage work-related problems.

If you work for an organization and have personal or work-related challenges, an employee assistance program can help you. Consider looking into what services your company offers for employees.

Employee assistance program (EAP) counselors wear many hats. Research from 2021 indicates that their central role is to help employees improve their emotional and mental well-being to enhance their work performance.

EAP counselors provide short-term counseling for mental health and work-related concerns. EAPs can also offer you support for substance misuse problems. Some managers may refer employees to EAPs to help address performance-related work concerns.

Using an employee assistance program is voluntary and confidential. Studies cited in 2023 research suggest that they have been used since 1917, and in the United States, 97% of organizations with 5000 or more employees offer EAPs.

They first started as a means for addressing problematic employees and rehabilitating them. The researchers note that EAPs are now a standard part of many organizations’ fringe benefits.

EAPs are similar to therapy but very short-term. Employee assistance program counselors are licensed professionals who, according to 2022 research, offer:

  • resources
  • personalized counseling
  • referrals to other healthcare providers when necessary

If you’re having personal, mental health, or work challenges, check out your employer’s EAP to see what they offer. There are various benefits to using an EAP, many of which are free.

Types of employee assistance programs

Employee assistance programs range in what they can offer. Some organizations have in-house EAP counselors, and others refer to different programs.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), there are six types of EAPs.

  1. Internal programs: These programs provide in-house EAP counselors that employees can access onsite. They are typically more common in larger organizations, and the company usually contracts the EAP counselors in these programs.
  2. External programs: These programs offer services with outside service providers. With external programs, most employees have to call a number and get set up with an intake. The employees or their family members are referred to a professional in their area or virtually.
  3. Blended programs: Blended programs combine in-house and external services. Employees can choose to meet with an in-house provider or meet with a professional near their home.
  4. Management-sponsored programs: These programs are sponsored by a company’s management and are sometimes included in the benefits of working at a particular organization.
  5. Member assistance programs (MAPs): MAPs are EAPs provided by a union rather than company management. They have a broad scope and often promote wellness for employees and their families.
  6. Peer-based programs: Peer-based programs are a rarer form of EAP that provides training and education from co-workers or other peers in the organization to those who need it.

Exploring what type of EAPs your organization offers can help you choose what’s right for you and get the most out of your EAP services.

One benefit of seeing an EAP counselor is that you can speak to a licensed professional, usually for free. This can be very helpful if you’re experiencing work, personal, or mental health challenges.

EAPs have effectively reduced psychological distress and improved overall mental well-being and health, according to 2022 research. The researchers note that the reduction in psychological distress was most effective when an organization had a high psychosocial safety climate.

Additionally, a 2023 research-based review of EAPs found that EAPs offered the following benefits:

  • increased focus at work
  • reduction in absenteeism at work
  • decreased workplace distress
  • increased engagement at work
  • improvements in life satisfaction
  • higher levels of productivity at work

In short, EAPs can help improve overall work well-being and engagement. Using EAP services can also provide personal benefits, such as the ability to work through mental health and substance misuse concerns.

Employee assistance programs are standard offerings in today’s workplaces. While many range in the scope of services provided, most provide short-term counseling, resources, and referrals from a licensed professional for free.

If you’re curious about your organization’s EAP benefits, check with your human resources department or manager. Additional support for your work and personal life can improve your overall well-being.