interview with an employee at an employee assistance program (EAP)

We sometimes talk here about EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) but have never explored how they work. A reader, Em, who works for one, left an incredibly interesting comment about her work on a post last week, and generously agreed to talk with me more about what she does. Here’s our conversation.

How would you describe an EAP to someone who’d never heard of them?

It’s useful to consider what we aren’t. We are not health insurance. We are totally separate from that. We are also not doctors – we’re not able to do diagnostic work. We’re also not your human resources department. We’re a third-party contractor. I’m also going to say that I’m talking for one provider only, but honestly, we all do pretty much the same basic stuff (like fast-food restaurants; a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger).

Given one sentence to explain what we do, I’d say: we take care of things you need to do from time to time, but that can be difficult, obscure, or expensive. In more detail: Locating a therapist, getting legal advice, locating a dietitian, financial counselling that isn’t affiliated with a particular bank, orthopedagogy, occupational therapy, locating childcare or adultcare resources, conversations with a nurse about ways to manage an ongoing health issue, that kind of thing. Even if it’s something we don’t have the resources for in-house, we can usually locate something for you.

For people in supervisory roles: you can call in and say “hey, my employee’s having a hard time/ I have a difficult conversation coming up / my employees are at odds and I’m worried they might set up a cage match over cleaning the microwave” and we’ll connect you to a counsellor who can give you some advice.

We also operate as a crisis line. Even if you wouldn’t ordinarily have access to our services, if you call us up and your safety is at risk, you will be put through to a counsellor.

The services we provide in-house are free to employees, or occasionally at a very heavy discount – it depends on what your employer has contracted with us, and we’re always upfront about anything that isn’t free because everybody is stressed enough without surprise bills (plus, you know, ethics). Our helping-you-find-resources-near-you services are also free. The things we do most of – therapy, legal advice, financial advice, nutrition advice – are done in-house. Most of the time, all those services are available to long-term romantic partners and to dependents as well. It’s always worth asking. (When I say always – always. We are 24/7, including holidays.)

If you’re not sure whether or not your EAP can help with something, call and ask. We’re a benefit just like your vacation time, so please use us. Even if we can’t help with Specific Thing, we might have something that helps take the edge off. (I sound like an advertisement. Sorry! I never called my EAP before working here, and since I started, I have become an EAP evangelist to anyone who’ll stand still long enough. Call us! Get free stuff at your employer’s expense!)

What exactly is your job, and how long have you worked there?

The first part of that is complicated in my case, so I’ll start with the second: about a year and a half! Seems like longer, because I work in a call center role, and I don’t think there’s a call center in the world where a year and a half tenure isn’t a lot.

I am a bilingual inbound call center agent for the EAP section of my employer (which provides a lot of other human-resourcey consulting/seminars/services that are not EAP-related). What that means in plain language is that when you call the number to access your employee assistance program (which you can do even if your manager hasn’t suggested it!), I’m the person who answers it. I’ll make your file, answer any questions you have about the services, book the services, handle any complaints or compliments, and do an initial safety assessment. If you need to be transferred to someone, I’ll do a warm-transfer, which in call-center parlance means I’ll stay on the line with you when I transfer you and introduce you to the next person so you don’t have to repeat yourself. Sometimes you’ll have questions or needs I can’t resolve the first time you call – in that case, I’ll send off an email to someone who WILL be able to, and make sure you get called back. In other words, you call me and tell me what’s going on, and I’ll let you know what options we have that might help, and if you like the sound of them, I’ll set them up.

A couple of months after I finished new hire training, I was moved to a team within that description who handle The Weird Companies. Obviously, that’s not their official name, but it’s all the contracts we have with individual details like unique services or remote locations, or other needs (for example, we have one organization whose employees are likely to be exposed to some very grisly sights in the course of their work, which can be traumatizng). Since June of last year, I’ve been training other people who handle Weird Companies; I also keep all our process documents up-to-date, provide ongoing coaching, and operate as an interim team lead to take escalations or make decisions when the actual team leads are in meetings or otherwise unavailable. At this point, 95% of my colleagues are people I’ve trained. I get SUCH a kick out of seeing them be awesome.

I still take calls, though, especially if they need people to work evening overtime. Pro tip: most people call in the daytime, so if you can call in the evenings, you’ll encounter less hold-time and an agent who isn’t worried about the queue. I love working evenings.

What was your training like?

New hire training was three weeks of full-time training which involved learning about the various services we offered, roleplaying situations where they might be useful, listening to live calls and discussing them (that was my favorite – unlike roleplaying, actual clients don’t follow the script!), learning how to use our software and databases, meeting various other teams – we’re very big on actually talking to other teams – and a lot of time going over various situations that might impact people’s safety. What are some phrases that people might use as euphemisms for self-harm or abuse? What are things to listen for in the background of calls? What are some good phrases we can use for follow-up questions? What services might be useful for people beyond the basic thing they’re asking for? I mentioned in my initial comment that domestic violence is a not-infrequent reason someone might call – I’d hook that person up with the support of a therapist, obviously, but less-obviously legal and financial advice might come in handy. If your partner’s insisted on controlling all your money for a decade and suddenly you’re free of them, you might not have the experience (or confidence!) to know where to start or what questions to ask. We spent a lot of time looking at hypothetical situations and figuring out things that might be useful.

Once we were “graduated” from new hire training, we spent several days taking calls with a senior agent shadowing us 1:1. Some people needed longer, and they got longer. Once we’re taking calls solo, there is also always someone you can ask for help. We generally operate under the principle that it’s better to take forty minutes to get the right answer and make sure the client is safe than it is to take ten minutes and not be sure.

You mentioned that you’re taught about things to listen for in the background of calls. Can you give some examples of those?

This can be a fairly wide range, surprisingly! Safety’s always our first concern (someone can call me and breezily say “hey, I’m planning on buying a house in the next couple of years, can you hook me up with a financial counsellor” and I’m still going to ask them flat-out if they’re thinking of harming themselves or think someone might be thinking of harming them), so I’m going to listen for sounds that indicate they might be driving, or that there’s someone else with them. Sometimes that’s innocuous, as in the case of a teenager who was doing this kind of thing for themselves for the first time and wanted their mother in the same room to help them if they had any questions they weren’t sure how to answer (and “mom, she says there’s an appointment tomorrow at 5, can you drive me”). Sometimes, not so much. I once had a call with someone where I could hear someone in the background instructing them on what and what not to say, which was concerning. If it’s more on the not-so-innocuous side, I’m going to re-ask the safety question in a different way that lets them give me an answer that doesn’t give anything away to a listener; I’m also going to phrase more of my questions to have yes/no answers rather than the open-ended ones I usually ask, and I’m going to emphasize that if there’s anything else they think of at another time, we are always open and they can call us, and we have counsellors standing by. I’ll leave a note in the file as well, so that the next agent is aware that something might be up.

I’m also going to listen for the sounds that indicate the person might be a caregiver to children or adults. That lets me give better customer service! “Sir, I’ve got your appointment for therapy to help you deal with your upcoming divorce — that’s all set, I’ve sent you the confirmation email. You didn’t mention if you have children, but I think I heard some. I just wanted to let you know that if they need to talk to someone as well, they’re also covered by your EAP. Sometimes it can really help a kid to have someone neutral to talk to.” I’m not going to do the hard sell, but I want to make sure they know, because sometimes they don’t and I figure more information is better than less. It also works in other situations — when I’m looking at available appointments, I might ask them if they need it to be while the kids are in school, or if a late-night post-bedtime telecounselling appointment might be easier.

Sometimes it can be something silly! I had one person call in, very anxious (asking for help is scary!) and I could hear whistling in the background and finally just asked “… is that a cockatiel? I used to have cockatiels, they’re hilarious. I love that whistle.” and they laughed and told me a funny story about their cockatiel and suddenly their voice wasn’t shaky at all. Background noises are super useful for small talk that’s not about the weather and that builds a bit of a relationship between “nervous client” and “call center agent they just met,” and pets are usually something people like to talk about.

What does it take to do the work well?

Kindness, patience, and empathy. I can teach you software. I can teach you phone skills. I can teach you how to match a client with services. I can teach you how to modulate your voice. I can’t teach you how to care about strangers all day. I could probably teach you how to fake it really well, but you won’t enjoy the work and you’ll burn out on it. You don’t have to be an extrovert – I’m certainly not – but you do need to be able to listen to people, and to use your voice – tone, words, or both– to be comforting. And honestly, if a client calls in the middle of a crisis and you book the wrong appointment, we can fix that. If they call in the middle of a crisis and are met with someone who doesn’t care about them and makes them feel like just one more job to get through? We can’t fix that. It’s a cliché to say that soft skills are vital for the job, but for the work that I do, soft skills ARE the job, and they’re much easier to learn if you care about people.

My colleagues are, every one of them, amazingly kind people who (if you’ll permit me a moment of being saccharine) blow me away with the lengths they’ll go to to help people. Jerks self-select out pretty fast if they’re not caught at the interview stage.

How do you handle confidentiality? Are there things you’re required to report to the employer? To anyone else?

I am so glad you asked that, because that’s a question so many people who call us are concerned about, especially if the reason they’re calling us is work-related!

The short answer is: if someone other than you calls and asks about you, we don’t know you. Who? Sorry, never heard of them. We are a healthcare provider and bound by the same laws of confidentiality that affect healthcare. Where I am, the age of medical consent is 14 – so if a parent calls about their 14-year-old? Sorry, don’t know them, but if they called in themselves, I’d be happy to talk to them.

The long answer is: in nearly every case, the short answer applies. The only exceptions where we will share any information (beyond “we provided three counselling sessions to your employees last month, please pay us for that”) are:

1. Situations where using our service is a condition of continued employment. These are always set up by the employer, rather than the employee. The information we’ll provide is “yes, Hatshepsut attended their therapy/substance abuse sessions.” That’s it, that’s all.

2. There’s a safety issue. If I have someone in crisis on the line who is telling me they want to bomb their workplace, I am going to transfer them to a clinician, and if the clinician tells me “go,” I am going to contact that workplace and let them know there’s been a threat. That’s the only situation where the workplace will hear anything. (NB: I asked around, including the one person who came with the building and has All The Seniority, and nobody can remember this actually ever happening).

3. There’s a safety issue. If someone is going to hurt themselves and our call-center clinician is not able to come to a safety arrangement with them (this is along the lines of “tonight, I will not hurt myself. Here are the things I will do instead.”), we will call emergency services. This happens very rarely, and we are cognizant that cops and mental health issues don’t mix well. I’ve done it once in my tenure, and if I hadn’t, it would have been the kind of thing you hear about on the news for a couple of weeks. There were children involved. (It was very, very tense until I got a call from a police officer to tell me they got there in time. I don’t remember that client’s name, but I will never forget how desperately hopeless and hurt they sounded.)

In other words, if we are going to do anything that involves identifying a client to someone who isn’t the client without the client’s explicit, prior consent, we had better have an airtight reason that involves the risk of people dying. Clients are informed of this in an automated message when they call us.

You sound like you really like your job, and I can see why! But I’m sure there must be frustrations too. What’s frustrating about your job?

I do! It’s not anything any kid wants to do when they grow up, but neither are most jobs. Most of the frustrating things are things that I think are pretty universal — sometimes our software acts up (I have grown to dread the emails that tell us “we’re updating Software, but you shouldn’t notice any effect.” That’s a good sign to get out the manual forms and prepare to be calling a lot of people back. No shade to our tech folks, though — doing updates to a live software that’s being used 24/7 is a Sisyphean task.), and I’d love it if they paid me more. There’s also the frustration that comes with any customer service job — nobody ever calls us because everything’s fine, and we get a lot of scared/worried/angry people who aren’t necessarily angry with us, but it’s boiled over and we’re there. That can be hard, especially for less-experienced people who are still learning how to de-escalate conversations. We also get people who are flat-out abusive (one person comes to mind who screamed racist abuse at three different agents because their names weren’t dominant-culture enough for his taste), but — unlike some other call center jobs I’ve had, I’m looking at you telecommunications company — we are encouraged to end those calls.

What I find most frustrating, though, is when people have unrealistic expectations of the scope of our work, and then get angry at us for not delivering. We’re a short-term, free service. I’m happy to try and locate you a female psychologist who works between 7 and 8 pm on a Thursday evening and who works within a five-minute walk of your house (this is an actual level of specificity someone has asked for), but it is going to take me a lot longer than this video conferencing appointment with a social worker that I have free tomorrow afternoon, or the psychotherapist the day after tomorrow, and we might call you after several weeks of trying to tell you that that particular therapist doesn’t exist. We’re also going to be able to provide support to your child who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia (orthopedagogy! regular therapy, because a kid who until now has not known there’s a reason they have trouble is likely going to need to talk about it!), but we can’t diagnose your child who might be dyslexic — that’s a really involved, specialized process that we’re not equipped for (again, short-term). Most people, when I explain that we can’t do that particular thing, but here are some things we can do to make things suck less in the meantime, are very understanding. Others remind me of when I was a teenager working at a muffin stall in the mall and someone got mad at me because we didn’t sell ice cream. (“Ma’am, this is a bakery.”) Not knowing what we do is fine — a lot of people aren’t sure! — but getting mad and huffing “well, what good ARE you then” when I’ve spent time explaining and offering you a variety of free services is frustrating.

So — pretty much the same as any other job involving dealing with The Public!

I imagine this work can be emotionally draining. How do you handle that?

We are encouraged to put ourselves on an unscheduled break for a few minutes after difficult calls and go get some air. We’re also encouraged to talk about it – there’s always a colleague we can call to say “hey, got a minute? I just had a rough one.” The one I mentioned earlier, where I had to call emergency services, I knew I would not be able to take other calls until I knew everything was okay, so I told my boss about it and asked for some mindless paperwork I could do. Some of my colleagues find it easiest to take another call right away. It is an extremely supportive work environment, and not in a weird “let’s have a daily meeting where we name our feelings and assign them each a color” way.

We have our own EAP! Things are arranged so that the person we contact to ask for help will be a stranger to us.

I’ve got a couple of things that I find really useful. The first is that even though I work from home, I commute – I walk around the block in one direction before work, and around the block in the other direction after work. I find it helps me to have that mental separation. The other things are more things I keep in mind:

1. The client I am dealing with now is my most important client. My last client might have had a metaphorical broken neck, but that doesn’t mean that my current client’s sprained pinky doesn’t deserve care. People deserve help and care regardless of their circumstance.

2.  If it’s a really rough call, and I am hurting for my client, I know that while they won’t remember my name or likely anything about me, they will remember that when they called for help, the person on the other end listened to them, and cared, and didn’t make them feel small, or wrong, or like a burden. I might be the best part of their worst day, and that is such a privilege.

I’m always interested in how jobs like this cross over into your personal life, if at all. Do you find the skills you’ve learned in the job, and the experiences you’ve had in it, showing up in the way you relate to friends and family?

Hmm. I think the answer might be different if I was younger and hadn’t been working in call-center customer service roles for so long. I’ve joked a lot that call-center customer service might be a really good qualification for hostage negotiators, because “de-escalating an angry/hurt/desperate person you can’t do anything except talk to” is a skill and one that applies equally well to family arguments. I’ve gotten much better at calmly stating and then enforcing boundaries.

There are skills I’ve learned on the job that I do not use on the job — I’ve observed clinicians run people having panic attacks through grounding exercises, for instance, and that is not my job and my job in that case is to get them to a clinician. I’ve used the techniques a couple of times with friends who’ve needed them, and it’s helped. I’ve also used them for myself. One thing that I like is that it’s made me a lot more aware of the various resources that might be available, so if a friend is struggling with something and has asked for practical help, I can provide information.

I suspect it’s made me more protective. I have a wider knowledge-base of what people might be going through and what kind of reactions they might be having than I would otherwise, so (for instance) right now I’m checking in more with my teacher/healthcare-worker friends.

If you want to hear more from Em, check out her smart and kind comment about how she and her colleagues would handle a call from the paranoid employee in last week’s letter.

{ 195 comments… read them below }

  1. 3DogNight*

    Em, you sound AMAZING! We have an EAP and I’ve not really given it much of a thought beyond, hey, I am looking for a therapist. Seeing this, and hearing your story makes me appreciate you so much!

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Right? She sounds like an incredible person! She gave me something to think about career-wise, given how much this type of work seems to fuel her. I’d love to have her passion and do something similar.

    2. kay bee*

      Yes, agreed! And it sounds like a great workplace, too.

      I wish my EAP felt this thoughtful and kind when I had to contact them earlier in the year. I asked for some grief support and they basically threw a list of counselors in my area at me and I was on my own from there. It felt like they existed just to authorize payment, nothing further.

  2. AppleStan*

    This is an excellent piece of information and I’m going to share it with my team.

    I often recommend the EAP program but I think our management (me included) don’t do a good enough job explaining all that it can do.

    EAP can be a VERY powerful tool to strengthen all parts of an employee’s personal or professional life, and if they are lucky enough to work for an employer that has contracted with an excellent EAP program, they should take advantage!

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      I’ve used our EAP twice, once for a work-related issue and once for a personal issue. I mention this every time I recommend the EAP, whether to a specific person, or if I’m reminding staff it exists in a meeting. I want people to know that it really is ok to use and that I’ve done it and it was helpful.

      I also want to highlight that Em said they are bilingual support. I know my EAP has counselors who speaks Spanish; I called and asked for one of my direct reports who told me flat out they would have an easier time talking about deeply personal things in their native language. If this is you or your colleague, it’s worth asking your EAP if any services are available in languages other than English. It’s also something I now tell everyone when the EAP comes up so no one has to ask, and so others can spread the info.

  3. Nicotene*

    This person sounds lovely. Thanks for the work you do. I’m sure you deserve more pay/benefits than what your receive.

    1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      Seriously, came here to say this. Whatever they’re paying you, it doesn’t sound like enough.

    2. ThinMint*

      thirding this – Em, you sound wonderful and I’m now looking into my own employer’s EAP because you have really opened my eyes.

  4. Mimmy*

    Alison – Just a quick heads up that the link to the original post doesn’t go straight to Em’s comment; it just goes to the page.

    1. AppleStan*

      I, too, had the same issue, no matter how many times I refreshed the page, used the link, or waited for the page to finish loading.

      For anyone else who might be having that issue, after the page loads, just do a search for the phrase “Hi! I do work for an EAP” and it will take you right to EM’s comment. You could search for just “EM” but it will pull up every occurrence of that combination on the page, which numbers in the thousands, I imagine.

      1. TechWriter*

        A Nice Thing on this site that I discovered recently: There is an invisible * after everyone’s handle. So if you search for Em*, you get there.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thank you! Also, you can get there by searching for:

        Adding the asterisk will bring up user names only (as opposed to every “em” on the page).

        1. Hazel*

          Good to know! I just clicked through all of the “em”s to find it. employee, employer, problem… :)

    2. Mentil Lentil*

      Also, if you have collapse-all set as the default, this will happen. If you right-click and open the link to the comment in a private window, it should take you right there.

    3. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

      It didn’t work for me in Chrome, worked with Foxfire. But thanks everyone for that tip about *.

  5. LifeBeforeCorona*

    “A cage match over cleaning the microwave” clearly this person has worked in my office. The job does sound amazing and very much needed.

  6. Chainsaw Bear*

    What a lovely, thoughtful individual.

    This also was a great reminder for me – I called my EAP last year to get directed to a list of therapists my insurance covers. And then I got burnt out trying to find one because no one was taking new patients despite that being a filter I had selected. Just set a reminder for myself to call my EAP this week to see if they can help do the legwork of actually finding a therapist for me to schedule an appointment with.

  7. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Alison, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to get to know Em and her work! I think we can all agree here that Em deserves a raise. :)

  8. JayemGriffin*

    This was fascinating! I frankly hadn’t thought much about our EAP, since I already have a therapist, and, you know, what else do they do besides refer you to a therapist? Turns out, quite a lot! I already have a few situations in mind that our EAP might help with after reading this. Thank you, Em!

  9. Anon for now*

    I recently used my EAP for the first time and it was so great! The EAP folks on the phone were so incredibly kind and helpful. My experience with the process as a caller definitely mirrors what Em says what intake looks like, including availability of clinicians if there’s an immediate crisis.

    I had recently developed PTSD and was having panic episodes. My primary care doc referred me to behavioral health department of his medical group… two month wait for an appointment. So I tried the EAP. They could give me a list of providers to contact, or they could perform the search for me. I was so grateful they could perform the search for me because even explaining why I was calling would make me start to panic as I re-hashed what happened to me that started all this. So having to work through a list of providers just felt overwhelming.

    It took about a week for them to find an available provider (mental health services are in huge demand right now and so this was longer than normal), but once they did, I easily set up an appointment and have been getting the help I need.

    Thank you for what you and your colleagues do, Em!!

  10. Tome Raider*

    I’m curious – how did you find this kind of work, and what kind of education/training/experience is needed? I’m a librarian, and a lot of what you do sounds aligned with the more sensitive reference and research consultation work that I do with grad students in allied health professions. (The number of social work students who share very personal information and want to debrief their internship work in one-on-one research sessions is staggering. I’ve also gotten a reputation for being one of the folks who will help with personal research needs, like health literacy information or connecting people to basic needs services, both on and off campus.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Our interview was long so I didn’t use everything, but we talked about that. Here’s Emily addressing that, as well as some other stuff that got cut:

      How did you get into this work? What’s your professional background like?

      Haphazardly, for both questions. All my jobs have been entry-level customer service work, for the simple reason that most of them were part-time jobs during one of my attempts to get a bachelor’s degree (rendered a very long, intermittent process due to untreated health issues). The one long-term, full-time job I had was as a call centre rep for a major American automobile manufacturer… in 2008. That ended about as well as you can imagine. I’d always loved teaching, so, when I finally DID get my BA (with honours! Go me! I’m still proud) and was accepted into my first-choice Master’s program, I thought great, I’ll get my MA in literature and apply to teach at the local post-secondary institutions, they’re frequently hiring and I love teaching adults, and I envisioned a career in academia. About three quarters of the way to my MA, a traumatic event made my health issues flare up again and I spent a year and a half unemployed (and MA-less) before a friend of mine who is a muckety-muck at this EAP company gently asked if I’d like her to refer me to the call centre.

      Call centres are used to high turnover – initially, I was going to use it as a job while I looked for something more in my wheelhouse, but as it turned out, I really liked the workplace, I was good at it, and I was actively making people’s lives better, so I’m still here.

      What’s a typical day or typical week like for you?

      Hahaha, “typical.” Because I do training, it varies a lot; my boss might come to me and say “hey, we’ve noticed an uptick in mistakes with this particular process. Forget ______, can you do a refresh session with everyone (about a hundred people) over by Friday?” and suddenly I’m scheduling twenty hour-long meetings with groups of five. I actually really love that kind of thing. Fast-thinking, intense work with a hard deadline where I can drop everything and focus on that one thing? Suits me very well. I am also very lucky in that I can tell my boss “no, I can’t, that’s not how linear time works. How about next Friday?” and he listens to me.

      It’s a call centre, which means coverage and schedule adherence (as much as possible – obviously we’re not going to say “sorry, client, gotta hang up, I’m scheduled for lunch now”) is important. I log in at the scheduled time, drop a “good morning” in the work social chatroom (not to be confused with the work-work chatroom), check my email to see if there’s anything urgent-take-care-of-this-right-now, and then it depends on whether I have a training group at the moment. Before I had the extra responsibilities, I would set my phone software (it’s all VOIP) to “ready” and be placed in the queue to receive calls, and handle calls all day. Take a call, make my notes and send any forms or emails that need sending for that client, take the next call. Some days it is flat-out and you get calls as soon as you’re done the previous one, one after another, and those days are exhausting. Some days, you’re tempted to call yourself to make sure the lines are working.

      Since about July last year, it’s been flat-out more than not. (As you can imagine, “providing mental health support” has been one field that has seen a lot of increased volume during the pandemic, especially as our corporate customers include a lot of hospitals and school boards.)

      Since gaining my current role, if I have a training group, I start the day with them for a couple of hours to go over the theoretical aspects of the job; then I send them to listen to calls for a while in the middle of the day, then we end with a discussion of those calls, any questions, and more theory. I like to split it up because there’s only so much theory anyone can take. While they’re listening to calls, I’ll go over all of our documents to make sure they’re up-to-date, I’ll run any ongoing training for the existing agents (“here’s an hour meeting where we’ll go over this procedure that people seem to have a hard time with!”) and listen to the calls my previous training group are having and check in with them to see how they’re doing.

      If I don’t have a current training group – same thing, but without the theory bookends!

      A follow-up on confidentiality: You wrote, “if someone other than you calls and asks about you, we don’t know you. Who? Sorry, never heard of them.” Is it literally “never heard of them” (as opposed to “we can’t give out that information”)? I’ve always been curious about that.

      I wouldn’t say “never heard of them” on the phone because it’s not as professional a response in those words, but I will not discuss the other person. If you called in, and said you were worried about your employee Wakeen, what I’d do is ask you why — if you thought there was a safety risk, I’d transfer you to a counsellor to assess that and discuss how YOU can help Wakeen right now, using only information YOU provided. If there wasn’t a safety risk, I’d say something like “please ask Wakeen to call us, we’ll be happy to provide him with support.” If you ask me if he’s already called in, then “I understand that you’re worried, and that speaks well of you as a boss/friend/colleague/spouse/parent/child, but the only person I can discuss Wakeen with is Wakeen. You can let him know that we’re always open, and if you like I’ll let my colleagues know to be on the lookout for a call from Bob’s House of Bait.” What I might do is run you through our usual call flow and go over our services “Bob’s House of Bait’s EAP covers X, Y, and Z things.” I will be an extraordinarily courteous and empathetic brick wall.

      That way, if Wakeen hasn’t called before (I don’t know, I’m not going to even check for my own curiosity, because I can’t accidentally let slip any details I don’t know), you can let him know what to expect, which removes a lot of anxiety from the situation. It’s a lot easier to suggest to someone that they call the EAP if you can say “they’ll set up a confidential file with your name, phone number, and zipcode/postal code, and they’ll ask you to set a password, and they’ll ask if you’re safe and if you’re not they’ll transfer you to a counsellor, otherwise they can set up an appointment for any of these kinds of things.”

      Even if it’s Wakeen calling, I won’t say that there’s an existing file before I’ve confirmed that it’s actually Wakeen.

      Was there anything about your training, or about the job itself, that surprised you?

      Because I was referred by someone who already worked there, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I was surprised at how many of our clients are looking for legal advice — I’d expected mental health to be the bulk of our work, and it is, but legal is a much closer second than I would have guessed.

      Most of the surprises I came across had to do with the clients themselves. People who call in for help with substance abuse are often SO matter-of-fact about it, and that surprised me in a good way. It makes my job a lot easier when I don’t have to guess! I was also surprised — surprised maybe isn’t the right word, because it’s a documented phenomenon, but I was heartbroken to discover how true it was — at how many older men would cry down the phone at me. Not because they were crying, I’m totally used to people crying, it is a normal and okay thing, but because they’d apologize and say that the only person they ever cried in front of was their wife, and now she’s left and they have friends but nobody they can really talk to. Nine times out of ten, in straight couples who’ve split up after a few decades, the one who is going to call us in tears is the man. I wasn’t expecting it to be that drastic a difference.

      On a less somber note, I was surprised at how much busier we are on Mondays than any other day. We’re open all weekend! Why are you saving up all your business for 9AM on Monday? We never close! Save yourself the hold time, because our hold music is TERRIBLE, and call on the weekend or in the evening! (I genuinely think most people don’t realize we don’t close. Even holidays. We don’t close! Ever!)

      1. IEanon*

        It’s amazing how many people go into a graduate program thinking they’ll teach in higher ed, only to go into something completely different once they’re on the other side. Academia is really appealing from the outside looking in (and I stayed in higher ed, though I work in administration), but once you get into it, you quickly see whether or not it’s the right environment.

        I also love teaching adults, but I learned immediately that I don’t want to do it full-time. I adjunct one course/semester to fulfill that dream!

        I see a lot of overlap, too, between the work Em is doing, the advising that I do, and how the soft skills you can pick up in masters’ programs are easily translated into this kind of work! This was really interesting and insightful, and Em sounds like exactly the kind of person you want to answer when you contact your EAP.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Maybe Mondays are busier because people can call from work instead of home? Work can be more private in that you can duck colleagues easier than family members.

        I called the company EAP a few years ago; I made excuses to my family to stay late a half hour at work because the building was nearly empty and I could shut the door and speak in private.

      3. TiffIf*

        I was heartbroken to discover how true it was — at how many older men would cry down the phone at me. Not because they were crying, I’m totally used to people crying, it is a normal and okay thing, but because they’d apologize and say that the only person they ever cried in front of was their wife, and now she’s left and they have friends but nobody they can really talk to. Nine times out of ten, in straight couples who’ve split up after a few decades, the one who is going to call us in tears is the man.

        This is so heartbreaking–I hate that men are socialized to not have close relationships with other men and so their wives end up being the only person they can really talk to. It ends up being unfair to both men and women.

        1. ThatGirl*

          It really is. I’m grateful that my husband has close friends he can talk about things with … but they’re mostly women! (And to be clear, I have zero problem with him being close friends with women; it’s the larger issue of men not having emotional connections that I see as a problem.)

          1. Ukgal*

            Also that women are disproportionately taking emotional support roles for many more people.

      4. Bye Academia*

        Thanks for posting this! A super interesting interview all around.

        One small thing to point out in case you want to edit it…when I read the original post, I thought I missed something when she referenced “(see the courteous brick wall from above!)”. But I see it was in one of the answers that got cut. Without the context, it’s out of place in the original post.

      1. Chilipepper*

        Also agree. And the comment about the difficult thing to hear in the training resonated. I have had people ask for tech help or information help to set up things that could be very difficult to ask about and to hear. They were very appreciative that I did not miss a beat, just kept going with the information. I feel like librarians are a lot like fictional bartenders lending a sympathetic ear!

    2. Distracted Librarian*

      Yes, I was reminded of some interactions I had working a medical library reference desk 20-some years ago, before Dr. Google, when patients would come in to find information about their medical issues. Some of their situations were heartbreaking, and there were several times I wished I had someone to debrief with afterward. I love Em’s empathy, and I also love that her company recognizes the toll this work can take and provides support.

  11. Myrin*

    This was such an interesting read, thank you so much for taking the time to give such detailed answers, Em!
    I had never heard of EAPs until I started reading AAM and I’m not sure if something similar exists here (I’m not in the US), so I had always imagined them as some kind of in-house… counselling… people? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t think they are specialty call centres with the right connections, I thought you called there and had a therapist on the phone who is sitting two floors above from yours or something, so this was incredibly enlightening!

  12. ThatGirl*

    So helpful. My husband is an LPC who works in higher ed, and I think he might be good at this sort of thing too – I’m curious, do you have mental health clinicians directly employed by the EAP? I know ComPsych does, I’m not sure if they’re a direct EAP provider or if they contract out.

    My current job likes to play up all the concierge style services we can get, too – like party planning, lawyerly stuff, etc – and I think it’s great but I never think to call them for anything. I’m really glad the service exists, though!

    1. Em*


      Obviously I can’t speak for all EAP providers, but the one I work for works with both directly-employed therapists and contractors!

    2. Coffeecoffeecoffee*

      Hi there! I work for an EAP as a remote therapist and can be able to speak to that. I found my job by searching for “EAP counselor.” I am provisionally licensed and take inbound calls (and am actually the first person someone talks to, which is different than Em’s company’s work flow). We also have fully licensed therapists in the same role. I provide brief, solution-focused intervention based on assessment, as well as crisis intervention, referrals as needed, and also link people to other EAP benefits (legal, financial, convenience services, etc.). Often there are clinical issues buried in the calls for non-clinical services, so we’re able to pick up on a lot. ;)

      I know that some EAP vendors have onsite therapists for specific companies they contract with, so it’s definitely possible. Many EAP counselors are fully remote. The presenting issues are so diverse so if your partner is looking for a job that can change drastically moment to moment, EAP may be for him. On any given day I talk to people experiencing depression, grief, anxiety, trauma, adjustment issues, postpartum issues, relationship conflict, SPMI, and safety concerns (DV/SI/HI). It changes all the time so the work stays interesting (though is sometimes quite draining depending on the day and week). Best of luck!

  13. PM by Day, Knitter by Night*

    This was so insightful. I used my EAP to find a marriage counselor. Such a hard call to make (“Hi – my marriage is currently a s*it show…”) but she was nothing but compassionate and asked several questions to assess my personal safety. I used it again to find a therapist for my daughter’s trichotillomania and anxiety and it was the same – no judgement, just compassion and good information. Thank you so much for the work you and your colleagues do.

  14. WhoKnows*

    Thank you so much for this! I never quite knew what an EAP was, and after reading this, it’s clear they are an important and valuable resource. Definitely something I will keep in mind for the future.

  15. Keymaster of Gozer*

    “ I know that while they won’t remember my name or likely anything about me, they will remember that when they called for help, the person on the other end listened to them, and cared, and didn’t make them feel small, or wrong, or like a burden.”

    Speaking as one who has called a number of ‘oh god help I can’t handle this anymore’ services in her day I can confirm that. Can’t remember the name of the person who just listened and didn’t tell me I was stupid or selfish but they helped so much.

    You do one hell of a service. Thank you.

    1. Kimberly*

      This part struck me, too. Remembering about four years back when I was sexually assaulted by a client at work, and how I didn’t know what to do. Our HR team was less than helpful, but once they finally got me connected to our EAP I felt hopeful for the first time that I could work my way through this. This specific part of the interview made me cry reading it.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        I am so sorry that happened to you but so glad to know that somewhere in that disaster, you found someone who treated you with kindness and compassion and helped you have just a little bit of hope. Thank you for sharing that.

        To Em and any other EAP providers, thank you for the work you do and for making people feel seen, heard and cared about. That’s a huge gift.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      That line made me tear up. It’s an important perspective, and it’s absolutely true.

  16. Chantel*

    This is beyond amazing. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, Em, both in sharing details and in your willingness to do so. Thank you also, Alison, for carrying Em’s original comment further for the good of anyone lucky enough to encounter it (and Em’s follow-up). Another reason to say how much I love your blog.

  17. beanie gee*

    Dang, I had access to an EAP for 10 years at my last job and I never used it. I never realized how wide the services spanned!

  18. Anonymous #19*

    Thanks for sharing — this was really helpful!

    One question: do you know how counselors are identified? I’ve called the EAP at two employers and both times were recommended to Christian-based counselors in my area. The first time I went, I didn’t realize until I showed up. I’m not religious so it automatically felt like a bad fit (and it was). With the second time, I looked up the counselor recs in advance and was turned off so did my own research to find someone on my own. When I asked a few others who called EAPs from different employers, it was a consistent theme. Is this just a surprising coincidence or any wording to use to avoid?

    1. Mrs. Vexil*

      That happened to me too, with the Christian counselors! I figured it was just because I’m in a Bible Belt state. I’ve found the word “cornerstone” in the name of the counseling business almost always signifies Christian-based, and sometimes “crossroads.” Plus I made sure to ask for the addresses while talking to the EAP, and some of the counselors actually at churches so I was able to rule those out.

    2. Tessie Mae*

      Based on Em’s answers (“I’m happy to try and locate you a female psychologist who works between 7 and 8 pm on a Thursday evening and who works within a five-minute walk of your house”), this sounds like something you could mention as part of the filtering process of finding a counselor.

      1. Temperance*

        If Em is reading, I would LOVE if she could suggest to her intake people to add this to the list of questions they ask! Because I had thought that Christian counselors were at churches only, and was shocked when I was paired with one with no mention of her beliefs.

    3. Temperance*

      The SAME THING happened to me. I was matched with someone, went to her office, and she introduced herself as a Certified Christian Counselor.

      As someone with anxiety that probably started when I was basically preschool aged and was told that everyone I love is going to hell … I knew I couldn’t trust her, had no belief in her skills, and basically showed up to check the box.

    4. Em*


      Caveat that I’m only speaking for my employer, in my area — while we do have the option to look for a counsellor who looks at things via a particular faith, that’s an option that needs to be turned on, and the counsellor in question would need to also be a licensed psychologist/pychotherapist/social worker etc. with a master’s in that field and a certain amount of experience. I’m not sure how much that varies based on provider — if a provider is a smaller one that only provides services in an area that tends to be very religious, I can imagine that being more of a default (it would be very weird to me as a default option, but I live in an area that’s more secular than the Bible Belt Mrs. Vexil mentions below).

      I’d suggest saying up-front that that type of counsellor isn’t one you’re comfortable with! Like tomatoes — lots of people might like them on their burger, but I personally will ask for my burger to not have them rather than try to pick them off afterward.

    5. old curmudgeon*

      This is the biggest thing preventing me from ever contacting my employer’s EAP. My employer brought in representatives from the EAP to conduct an AA/EEO training a few years ago, and all they could talk about was Jesus this and God that the whole time. It was a mandatory training or I would have walked out of the room in the middle of it.

      Funny thing is that I work for a state agency in the Midwest US – we’re not Bible-belt country by any means, and at least in theory, there is not supposed to be any mention of religion in the context of work at a governmental entity. And, one would imagine, ESPECIALLY not in the context of affirmative action and equal opportunity training.

      After that experience, I’ll never consult any EAP for any reason. There are other resources out there, resources that don’t try to solve all problems with a liberal helping of “Jesus loves you” on the side.

      1. Li*

        I live in the Midwest US and this was my experience with my last two EAPs as well. I realize that I live in an extremely religious area so my therapy/counseling options are extremely limited, but I wasn’t expecting the EAP person I spoke with to ask me to pray or invite me to their church. Two different jobs and two different EAP companies, and in both cases I’d been clear that I was looking for secular options.

        1. SeluciaMD*

          This is horrifying. Keep your faith out of my crisis and out of work altogether please! (I mean, unless you work for a church or faith organization, of course.) But to have someone behave that way when you all for assistance? YIKES. And NO THANK YOU.

  19. Cathy Gale*

    Great discussion. And thank you for doing what you do, putting people together with these resources.

  20. Jenna W*

    Em, sounds like she might work for the same company I do. I work with legally contracting employers who want to provide EAP services to employees. One note about confidentiality…we are vigilant about it and operate with more stringent protections than what even HIPAA allows. Occasionally when negotiating a contract an employer will request language that would allow us to release some employee information to them, and we never agree to do this. We will not even acknowledge that an employee has or has not used EAP services.

    1. Beatrice*

      I’m curious what you do in cases where clients are abusive. I managed a team in a business-to-business call center once, and had a situation where a caller spewed profanity at one of my employees. It was so satisfying to be able to call his employer and play the recording for them and insist that we never hear from that person again for any reason. I assume you’re unable to even call the employer in your case, so you just hang up? Can you ban them from calling?

  21. Forty Years In the Hole*

    About a year out from his retirement, hubby fell into a real funk – not sleeping or oversleeping, withdrawn, didn’t give a crap about work, called in “sick,” passive-aggressive snippy…not his usual gregarious self. This went on for months. We figured depression but all his PCP did was Rx meds for sleep. Not helpful.
    I, not being the most empathetic being, suggested approaching our department’s EAP. We’re glad he did. He’d served for 45 years with the same (federal) department and that was about to end with a certificate, lunch and a handshake. He was scared, rudderless and depressed. Through EAP he connected with a psychiatrist, who walked him through his very real feelings of pending loss (and it was like grieving). Together we attended retirement planning seminars and here we are, some two yrs on, in a much better place. Team EAP!

  22. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

    I’m not religious but don’t know another term off the top of my head: you are an angel. Thank you for doing this work, thank you for sharing it with us.

  23. SnarkyMonkey*

    This is so helpful and I’m planning to share this with my team. Great job Em, and thank you Alison.

  24. Rachel*

    This is beautiful and so touching – you sound like an incredible person who is making a HUGE difference in people’s lives. Thank you for the work you do!!

  25. AGD*

    Oh my goodness, this is remarkable! Thanks, Em, for sharing (and Alison, for asking). Phenomenal work. The interview has made me realize that I can and should reach out to the EAP-equivalent at my workplace about a situation in my life that isn’t a typical job for a doctor or counselor but that I need some help with.

  26. Jonaessa*

    This was such an amazing interview! I have used my EAP before (and currently, though I do not feel like I am vibing with my current psychotherapist), and I can say that it has definitely helped me through a few tough times. I recommend it to anyone who comes in to my office with a problem (as the secretary, I hear a lot) and do everything I can to get them what they need so they can make contact.

    What I loved the most about this interview, though, is that Emily’s personality really shined through. You can tell she enjoys her job because she enjoys helping people. While it’s not rainbows and sunshine, it’s not always clouds and thunderstorms, either. She could literally be the difference in someone living or dying, and that is such an admirable thing. It’s making me rethink my life choices (in a good way!).

    Thank you!

    1. Owlgal*

      I work in healthcare and the EAP services I’ve had offered to me have been kind of hit or miss. I think that the company that was offering services through my last employer were directed to use our own company’s services. For example, I called looking for referral to a counselor (as I was having marital issues) and they referred me to the psychologists that were employed at my hospital. People that I actively worked with. Umm no. I am not going to discuss my marital issues (my husband also worked at the same hospital as me, too, making it a double “No”) with people I have a professional relationship with. The EAP person I spoke with did not readily have any resources & had to call me back the next day with a referral outside of our hospital. That experience has turned me off using EAP services. But, after reading this interview, I am rethinking things. I encounter a certain level of physical violence and emotional violence in my current work from our patient population & know that it might be useful to use my current EAP to find a good counselor.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        I worked in healthcare for almost 10 years and our large system had its own in-house EAP.

        One thing I appreciated was that they asked you which ‘entity’ you worked for and if you wanted a referral in-house to that entity, to another entity in the system, or completely outside the system.

  27. The Prettiest Curse*

    Thank you for doing this interview! From my days working at a medical non-profit, I can confirm that EAPs are a very under-utilized resource. To be fair, I did sometimes speak to people who said “I called my EAP and they were totally useless”, so they can definitely vary in quality.
    I used the EAP a few times in my last job in the US (once to deal with a medical billing screw-up), and all the staff I spoke to were both lovely and incredibly helpful.

    1. curly sue*

      Mine was useless, sadly. The person I spoke with was deeply unmotivated, basically gave me the verbal equivalent of a shrug and a ‘what can you do’, and zero resources. It’s nice to know that’s not industry standard!

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, the impression that I get is that the good ones are really good and the bad ones are really bad. But even if you speak to a less-helpful person, it may be worth waiting a week or two and contacting them again in case you get someone different the second time.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        Mention this to your HR department.

        Your employer is paying for the EAP’s services so this type of feedback is very important.

        1. curly sue*

          I’m in academia, an adjunct with zero capital outside my department, and I think the EAP company is the same one for all the universities in the city. There won’t be any changes even if by some miracle a complaint made it through the layers of bureaucracy to someone who could make a note on whatever file they’ll use for the call for tenders for the next contract whenever this thing expires… or however that works. It’s really not worth the effort.

  28. A Manager*

    Never really understood what an EAP could be used for – this was SO incredibly helpful and I appreciate you thinking of it and the info Em shared! Thank you!

  29. Chris C.*

    This is one of the most widely applicable and just darn useful posts I’ve seen on this blog. A great read. Thank you so much!!

  30. Mimmy*

    This was a fascinating read! Em, it sounds like you work in a very supportive environment, which makes it that much easier for you to provide support to those who contact your EAP services. Thank you for sharing!

  31. A Genuine Scientician*

    I used my EAP for two meetings with a counselor just before the pandemic hit. It was basically “I am feeling completely overwhelmed by this ridiculous amount of stuff going on in both my professional and personal lives and need to figure out how to make some really life-altering decisions that need to be made in the next couple of weeks.”

    (Potential move to a new city where I knew no one to take on a huge new role for me that I had been working towards for over a decade but wasn’t positive I wanted; conflict with a senior-to-me but not in my reporting line colleague in a limited term contract position; my sibling’s recent murder, with the accompanying grief and also guilt over the fact that I financially benefited from it, and also its interplay with the decision of whether to uproot my entire life vs gamble on a local job coming through but which even if it did would alter my professional path likely forever; fatigue after more than a decade of 60ish hour work weeks, etc.)

    Even though it was only a couple of meetings, and the counselor essentially said that I wasn’t the typical profile of someone who benefits much from counseling*, it was still strangely helpful to get the outside confirmation of “Yes, you’re right, this really is an overwhelming situation without a clear right solution,” and that trying to speak to someone in Psych about whether I might be dealing with some anxiety would be a reasonable idea. Then, you know, pandemic, Psych shut down for many months…

    Still, the EAP was great, and I honestly only knew that a) it existed, and b) what it was due to a combination of Alison and Carolyn Hax.

    * Me: “I am feeling overwhelmed by this large number of external stressors, and I’m not entirely clear how talking to someone about it will help, since it’s unlikely to actually solve any of these situations. No matter what I’m feeling, I still have to make some very large, mostly irreversible decisions in a very short time frame, at a time when I’m not confident I am thinking clearly.”

    Counselor: “Some people find the mere fact of having to express their concerns to someone else helpful by itself, since that makes them clarify their thoughts. But from even only two meetings with you, my sense is that you already have detailed, fluid answers about what the potential benefits and risks are about any possible decision, and what it is that is something you just can’t know yet. So in your case, it may be that further conversations about these things would not be very helpful, which is something I very rarely say to someone this early.”

  32. Catalyst*

    I love this post so much! Em sounds like she is amazing at her job. :) Having used EAP twice in my life – once when I had an abusive boyfriend and once for couples counseling (not the same relationship) – I can say that EAP is such a great tool and it is truly under-utilized. I have encouraged many of my own employees to reach out to our EAP program for issues they have come to me with because I know how helpful it can be.

  33. Dinoweeds*

    “I might be the best part of their worst day, and that is such a privilege.”

    Wow – this made me tear up. Thanks for doing what you do.

    1. hbc*

      I found myself tearing up at a lot of this post. Maybe none of us dream of doing this particular job when we’re kids, but a lot of us aspired to have that kind of positive impact on people’s lives, even if it’s usually one little bit at a time.

  34. Valkyrie*

    Thank you so much for this post! this was a really interesting read, I think the world is better for having the Ems in it. Also, this sounds like a job I would love to do, I answer phones at my job currently and my favourite part is connecting them to resources. I should maybe look into this next!

  35. Solitary squirrel*

    This was fascinating. I’m in the UK and as far as I know there’s not a direct equivalent, but I sort of wish there was – I’ve occasionally wanted to investigate non-NHS healthcare provision and it’s pretty difficult. The best equivalent I can think of is that a couple of workplaces have had counselling available or a limited private healthcare package. I have one now but I am still not very sure how to access the actual services; it looks like you have to identify your own provider, then claim.

    I work with members of the public who tend to have reason to be upset when they are contacting me, and will be taking note of some of these tips for de-escalating a conversation (though mostly mine are emails!)

    1. SarahKay*

      Solitary Squirrel, I’m also in the UK and my company gives me access to an EAP. I think it may be very employer-dependant as to whether or not they’re willing to pay for the services.

    2. BubbleTea*

      Yes, I’m also in the UK and we recently got an EAP (finally! One of my colleagues has worked on our particularly emotionally challenging project for almost a decade without any structured support available). Ours is provided by Health Assured and I think they do other stuff too but all I’ve ever accessed is the counselling service. It was extremely useful and I was very impressed.

      What surprised me about this interview is how similar Em’s work sounds to the job I do. I have fallen into this role by sheer chance – applied for a job on a whim without much relevant background, was hired as a trainee based on potential and enthusiasm, and then Covid caused a sudden shift in how we delivered our services and suddenly I answer a helpline. I would never in a thousand years have expected to enjoy or be good at answering the phone to strangers with serious problems but it has opened up a whole vista of career possibilities. And this post has shown me another facet of that vista! Thanks Em and Alison.

    3. Hamish*

      There definitely is. When I worked in Scotland, my company provided an EAP and I used it to access short-term counselling.

    4. jrab*

      They do exist here! I’ve had access to an EAP in every job I’ve had – although it wasn’t always well advertised.

    5. Ukgal*

      I got access to one in a volunteer job. I think what we got was a bit more limited access than the paid staff. Given the nature of many of the volunteering positions it was very sensible.

  36. LiberryPie*

    This is amazing! Honestly I thought an EAP meant that work would pay for a few sessions with a counselor. I’m so glad to learn about what it really is, so I can keep it in mind.

  37. HR Exec Popping In*

    I just want to drop a note to thank Em. I actually started to tear up with gratitude for the work of EAP professionals. There have been so many situations over the course of my career where the helpful and compassionate people at our EAP provider have frankly helped save a life. And while those instances are fortunately few and far between they have been some of the most stressful times in my job. But additionally and as importantly, EAP helps our average employees with normal everyday issues and concerns. These services help employees be better employees and better partners, parents, children, etc.

  38. Tryinghard*

    I’m bipolar and on medical leave for broken leg right now. Someone on my team asked how I was feeling and I overshared and said I was feeling depressed. Their response was to tell me to wake up tomorrow and decide I’m going to have a good day and I would beat my depression. It took everything in me not to scream at her on our Zoom session that it doesn’t work that way and telling people to will themselves out of it doesn’t work.

    I’ve been wrapped up in what is now unwanted wfh and my frustrations with my body and brain that I forgot we have this resource. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

      “Karen, if I could decide to NOT have depression, I definitely wouldn’t have it.” Love those folks.

      1. Elenna*

        “Oh wow, really? It didn’t occur to me to not want to have depression! What a helpful suggestion!” NOT!

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Your colleague sucks, sorry you had to deal with their ignorance.
      I know from experience that the sheer thought of having to research treatment options for anything can be a major barrier to getting treatment. The EAP cuts that step out because they should be able to give you options that will accept your insurance and are taking new patients. And if the first list of providers they give you doesn’t work out, make sure you go back know to them, tell them why and ask for another list.
      Good luck and I hope you can find a helpful mental health provider.

    3. OldHampshireNewHampshire*

      I’m surprised your colleague didn’t also tell you should decide your leg wasn’t broken anymore – GAAAAHHHH!!!

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, that’s the difference between mental and physical health, pretty much nobody expects you to cure a physical ailment just by thinking about it, but mental health issues are a different matter.

        1. SeluciaMD*

          And its one of the barriers for people who need that kind of help, too. I’ve done therapy/counseling several times over the years with tremendous success. I am VERY pro-therapy! My brother – who I really think could benefit for a myriad of things he’s been dealing with for several years – basically says “I’m a smart person and I talk to you and (friends). What could talking to a stranger possibly do for me? I can figure this out on my own.” No matter how much I try to point out that perhaps talking to a person who has had a lot of training and experience that I, and his friends, definitely don’t have might be a different kettle of fish, he is very skeptical. And most of it comes down to the fact that it’s his *mind* (vs. his *brain*) and so somehow he should be able to think himself out of it. And if he can’t think himself out of it, he can’t be helped.

          I really wish we did a better job as humans of equating mental health with somatic health. It would be helpful in so, so many ways.

  39. Sarra N. Dipity*

    Thank you SO MUCH, Em.

    Our HR pushes the EAP problem, and it’s always felt like they were doing so instead of addressing actual problems that we have at our company. And it’s probably true, they are, but after reading your interview it seems it would be really useful. It won’t change the Great Big Issues that this org has, but it could get those of us that are struggling access to resources that will help them realize that it’s ok to quit (which I’m doing as soon as I have an offer. Fingers crossed!).

  40. Crazy Random Happenstance*

    I’m an occupational therapist and was surprised to see that you make referrals to this profession. I’d love to hear some examples, if you have the time. Thank you for sharing more about EAP!

    1. Em*


      Occupational therapy’s one of our more niche things and to be honest, one of the ones we book most rarely (not a lot of our corporate customers go for it), but as we offer it it’s for adults who are experiencing a variety of issues around work. Returning to work after a long sick leave, for instance. We’ll also offer it for someone experiencing sensory issues — if you have trouble with high-pitched noises or bright lights, and you work in a hospital (home of beeping machines!), that could cause some trouble and an occupational therapist might be able to find ways to alleviate that.

  41. Sharkie*

    Yes! This is amazing. I work in EAP for an insurance company so it’s a little different, but this is an amazing article. Thank you Em for explaining it better than I can

  42. Jinni*

    This was an amazing interview. Thanks so much for posting it. I’ve had only two corporate jobs totalling less than three years, but each provided EAP assistance. No one ever said what they do and if you don’t know, you don’t know. This sounds like such a needed service. I honestly had no idea and the huge packets of onboarding stuff never really gave any details. It sounds like you do so much of the heavy lifting that makes getting care of many types very difficult. Brava Em!

  43. Sedna*

    This is fascinating – thank you both for this great piece! I’ve used my big org’s EAP twice so far and have found it really helpful, I’m a big fan.

  44. Aerie*

    I have a feeling a lot of EAPs are going to get calls from new users this week! Thanks Em. I just moved states and need to find all the new doctors/dentists/therapists. I think I’ll see what my EAP can do to help sort through all of that rather than my usual strategy of waiting till the last minute and spending all night alternating between the insurance co website and Zocdoc to find someone who can get me in within the next day or so…

  45. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I really like how you have phrased some things related to active listening and motivational interviewing. I’m incidentally working on a training for community health workers that focuses on some of these soft skills and you’ve given me some interesting ways to think about this. Thank you! I bet you’re great at training your colleagues!

  46. mcfizzle*

    ” It’s not anything any kid wants to do when they grow up, but neither are most jobs.” <– such truth!

    I too "fell" into my career path rather haphazardly, but hey, that's life, and I really like my job / coworker / benefits / work-life balance / so many other aspects.

  47. Texas Librarian*

    This was so incredibly helpful. I referred an employee to EAP years ago, which I think helped them. I only ever got confirmation that they attended the required appointments.

  48. KimberlyR*

    I knew that EAPs could help with short-term counseling sessions but I didn’t know they can help with other things! Thank you so much, Em! This was incredibly helpful!

  49. Katefish*

    This is so timely…I was just thinking of contacting our EAP and came across this interview. Thanks so much for the wonderful work you and your colleagues do!

  50. Generic Name*

    Wow, this is awesome! Thank you for the work that you do! I called my company’s EAP when I was just emerging from an abusive relationship (that I didn’t even realize was abusive at the time), and the counselor I spoke with was really helpful and because of those sessions I was able to realize that I should get into regular therapy and get help for myself. It was especially helpful because I was able to make the call from my own home and I didn’t have to take time off work or go anywhere, which removes a lot of barriers to getting started with therapy.

  51. Goose*

    My company doesn’t have an HR. How do I find out if we have and EAP without alerting my supervisor?

    1. DKMA*

      Never been at a company without an HR, but I would check in the same place you would find information about your other benefits. Wherever you would look up information on your health insurance for example, it would likely be there.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Along those lines, you might google the EAP providers for your country/region, if necessary, and look for those names among your benefits package if it doesn’t specifically call it out — they will be a different company than your health insurance provider. But if your company doesn’t have an HR, or contracts with an HR consulting company, I would be surprised if they have an EAP program.

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      If you have medical insurance, check your insurance card – it is often printed on the card – or their website. Most companies that have EAP do it through their medical insurance company.

    3. Em*

      Some places people have told me they’ve found our number:
      – company intranet
      – employee handbook
      – a pamphlet they were given when they were hired
      – a colleague
      – a poster in the break room.

      Another option that works pretty well is to google “EAP providers (state/province/country)” and see what comes up. We get calls periodically from people who aren’t sure if we’re their provider or not, and we’re happy to check. (I also have a list of phone numbers of other providers, because in my area, if it’s not us, it’s usually Other Company, so why not give someone their number.)

  52. Veggie Friendly*

    Honestly, you sound like an amazing person, Em. Your empathy and compassion genuinely brought a tear to my eye while reading this. I am SO glad to have people like you working somewhere like this so everyone that calls in gets to feel cared for for even a few seconds.

  53. DKMA*

    This was amazing. Em sounds like an incredibly thoughtful and empathetic person.

    Just commented to say I love the “commute” approach. Like many I’ve been WFH for the past year, and have struggled a bit with the lack of boundaries to my day. I’ve been saved a bit by meeting heavy culture which provides some of that structure, but as we’re likely to go to part in office, part WFH model long term I could use something better.

    I love the walk around the block because it’s a physical ritual that creates a mental separation, I’ll have to ponder how to do something similar that works whether I go into the office or not.

    1. Collarbone High*

      Yes! I’m permanent WFH and I love this “commute” idea for so many reasons. I’m going to start tomorrow!

      1. Em*

        If it helps, the other thing I do is I have Work Shoes. When I’m not working or when I’m commuting, I’m barefoot or in sneakers, but when I’m at work? I have the most gorgeous pair of red pumps. Nobody else sees them, and I might be in leggings and a hoodie otherwise, but my feet are dressed for the office.

        1. Lizy*

          I had such admiration for you after reading this interview. But now? It’s a whole ‘nuther level. RED PUMPS FOR THE WIN.

  54. Retail Not Retail*

    My employer is in a weird spot of not being a govt agency but being owned by the govt, so we get some govt things like access to the local govt EAP. They offer unlimited therapy sessions, which has been phenomenal. I actually found a therapist that took my stopgap exchange insurance and she said hey wait, you work where? I also work with your EAP, you can see me for free after this!

  55. rickety*

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s great to read, and inspiring. I actually work a similar role (I work in a politician’s district office) and people call or show up not really knowing how or if we can help. We get people with various issues (including paranoia) and have had trauma training etc to help identify the problems behind the problems. It was inspiring to read someone who is so passionate about helping people in this capacity.

  56. A Simple Narwhal*

    Wow this was amazing! It’s so fascinating to learn more about what an EAP is, this makes me want to look into the one my company offers. (Not for anything bad, my husband and I have been thinking about finding a financial planner, it sounds like it might be able to refer me to one – that was good to know, alongside everything else!)

  57. Empress Matilda*

    Em, thank you for everything you do. And thanks to both you and Alison for this interview!

    I’m another person who didn’t know they do anything other than therapy. I was in a situation once where I needed immediate legal advice, and didn’t know where else to turn. So I called the EAP and was put in touch with a lawyer, who was incredibly helpful. It was so great to have that service available, so I could just have the 15-minute phone call I needed, without having to run around researching lawyers on my own.

    1. Veryanon*

      Yep! When I was going through a divorce, I was really worried about being able to pay a divorce attorney. My company’s EAP services included discounted legal services for common things like divorce, estate planning, etc. It was a life-saver.

  58. RagingADHD*

    Great interview overall, but was there a typo in the comment about people looking for a financial advisor? Did you mean you really reply to an inquiry like that by asking if they are thinking of harming themselves?

    That seems like such a non-sequitur, I’d probably think I’d dialled the wrong number. Don’t a lot of people find that confusing?

    1. BubbleTea*

      I can’t speak for Em, but I work in a finance-adjacent field answering calls from the public, and we routinely ask people if they could be pregnant. Safety screening questions are sufficiently important that they get asked of everyone, because we can’t make assumptions about who is likely to be at risk. I know from experience that “I have this specific financial question I need help with” can often be a gateway to “oh and also MASSIVE LEDE BURIED all these other problems that are objectively more serious, but which I find too overwhelming to seek help for”.

      When I have to ask the apparently non sequitur questions (diversity monitoring, safety screening) I tend to say something like “I have a few questions we ask everyone, you don’t have to answer and most of the questions are for monitoring. If it affects how we can help you, I will let you know”. That reassures them they’re not being weirdly profiled, gives them an out for anything they’re uncomfortable with, but also highlights that sometimes the information is important – for instance, I ask about immigration status and that can directly affect what options are open to them.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Just to clarify, we ask about pregnancy because it is such a common risk factor/catalyst for domestic abuse.

      2. rickety*

        This. I mentioned I work in a politicians office. We do a lot of paperwork, including birth certificates, car registration, unemployment. What could be a simple piece of paper can actually be a whole story for someone and you can figure out a lot of things they need. Maybe they were kicked out of their house, maybe they lost their job because they are a caregiver, maybe they have a drug problem. It’s almost never just about filling out a state form.

      3. RagingADHD*

        Sure, that makes sense and wouldn’t be confusing.

        I suppose I was taking the comment too literally, because the phrase “I will ask them straight out” sounded as if she were saying:

        Caller: Hi, I’m thinking of buying a house and would like to get in touch with a financial counselor/advisor

        Em: Are you thinking of harming yourself?

        Which doesn’t make sense.

        1. Em*

          Ha, yes, that would be a bit of a non-sequitur. By “straight out” I meant “in blunt language, at some point.” It would go more like this:
          Caller: Hi, I’m thinking of buying a house and would like to get in touch with a financial counselor/advisor.
          Me: Sure, I can look at that with you! Can I get your name and phone number?
          (Insert looking up or creating a client file here)
          Me: Okay, so you said you’re looking for financial advice! We’ll get to that in a moment, but before we do, we have a question we ask everyone because we want to make sure you’re safe. (question about risk goes here).”

          1. Self Employed*

            I have a really ignorant question. I nearly got committed because someone at my doctor’s office asked “do you feel safe at home?” when I was in for some routine health stuff and I said I felt unsafe because of the violence in my apartment building. A recent high-profile police shooting was just the tip of the iceberg and we had been having “public safety meetings” for a month that were just making us feel worse. Instead of looking at my address and realizing that yes, I did live there and that would be hella scary, they tried to convince me that “normal people don’t feel unsafe in their apartments” and I needed to be locked up somewhere until I realized those were just irrational thoughts.

            If it’s so irrational, why are we getting memos from management every few days about home invasions and intruders trying to get unauthorized building access?

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I don’t find it confusing. I assume there is a list of standard screening questions when calling a hotline specifically for people who are in some sort of distress. As a woman, whenever I go to a doctor, one of the first questions the nurse and then the doctor ask me is if I’m safe at home — even if I’m there for a possible sinus infection. This isn’t the same as calling directly to H&R Block for an appointment.

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        My husband fell off our roof a few years ago and gashed open his arm on the metal ladder on the way down. The ER nurse asked him as part of the intake process if he felt safe at home, and he replied, “Well, not when I’m on the roof any longer!”

        1. Former Employee*

          Anyone who can maintain that dry sense of humor after falling off the roof and needing to go to the ER is my kind of person.

          As someone with lots of health issues, I have found that keeping one’s sense of humor makes dealing with medical stuff so much easier.

    3. lil falafel wrap*

      Probably not a typo. I’m sure she has a way of easing into or transitioning into that conversation, but it’s really common for any mental health agency or anything even slightly dealing with mental health to ask the safety question, because you truly never know and can never be too safe. If people are under stress or have a large change coming up in their life, their risk of suicide or self-harm goes up and it’s better to ask the question.

      Source: currently a therapist and MSW student, previously was a trainer for something called Youth Mental Health First Aid where I trained professionals of all backgrounds that if they have even the slightest worry or suspicion that someone may have suicidal ideation, you ask the question, clearly and bluntly.

  59. AnotherSarah*

    My colleague is going through a very rough patch, and this was the exact right day for me to read this! I had no idea how helpful an EAP can be, and I’m sending him this info and our EAP info stat. Thank you!

  60. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I never thought of a supervisor using the EAP to get advice on what to do about an employee — I guess I just always thought they would/should consult HR for that. That should be highlighted more for new managers. I think my org has done a good job at advertising that we have an EAP, but beyond mentioning that it exists and encouraging us to use it, they just don’t really give much indication on what it can be used for. This was very helpful!

    1. GreenDoor*

      I’m excited that advice for managers is included. Not every HR is good at giving managers scripts or conversation starters for awkward or sensitive conversations.

  61. TWW*

    Thank you for pointing out that you don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at (and enjoy) a job centered around talking to people.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. To be honest, introverts are often better at listening than extreme extroverts who enjoy talking so much that they don’t let others get a word in edgewise.

      That said, after a day of talking all day, an introvert is more likely to be drained by it than an extrovert.

      The standard stereotype is that you have to be an extrovert to be good at sales. That may be true if you’re selling a standard product and your job is basically to persuade people that they need to buy what you’re offering, even if they aren’t so sure. But if your job involves actually listening to the client and trying to find the best possible solution for them, introverts often do better.

  62. Veryanon*

    EAPs are awesome resources. I’ve used them myself in the past and recommend them frequently in my job. Especially over the past year.

  63. Glacier*

    Em, I teared up multiple times while reading your post. So much about the last year+ has been SO difficult, and I think the care and empathy you’re providing is literally priceless (I wish you were paid more too). Reading this post has made me want to reach out to my own EAP. Thank you for reminding me that help is out there.

  64. Wouldn't do it again*

    Wish I could say my EAP experience was a good one. I was really struggling with my own self worth after learning my immediate supervisor had lied to me about a salary freeze to keep revenue (that I had earned) on the books, and her immediate supervisor had covered it up. This had gone on for years, and when it was finally uncovered, the company response was to blame me for bringing it to light. Not only did it cost me money, but it left me unmotivated, resentful, and in a place where I dreaded coming to work each day. I was looking for help with the “unmotivated and resentful” part, and I turned to EAP. It was hard to ask for help, and as it turned out, I didn’t get any. The counselor barely listened to what I had to say, seemed really disappointed that I didn’t have a drug or alcohol problem, and 15 minutes after I got there, told me to “get past it” and rushed me out the door. Took longer to fill out the paperwork than to get “counseling.” I left feeling like (a) everything I said was probably going straight back to my employer, and (b) my “free” counseling was worth exactly what I paid for it.

  65. Lizy*

    This was, quite possibly, my favorite post of AAM, and there’s some pretty awesome ones out there (here’s looking at you, Drunk Office-Party Date With Sad Piano-Guy Teacher). Thank you, Alison, for making it happen, and Em, for being so open and taking the time to educate us all!

  66. Sarah*

    This was an amazing interview. The work sounds fascinating, and Em sounds funny, warm, and kind. Thank you so much for sharing.

  67. Caterpie*

    Thank you! This was fascinating. I had to use my EAP to help find an out of state lawyer when one of our wedding vendors tried to take advantage of COVID to do some weasely stuff. Several members of my online wedding planning groups have gone through similar issues, and I’ve been recommending they check to see if they or their fiancé has an EAP at work! Glad to see it seems like a solid recommendation with compassionate, knowledgeable people on the other end.

  68. Malarkey01*

    Such an amazing resource! I worked with someone who developed anxiety and depression in middle age (or maybe untreated before and escalated suddenly). We were at a loss for what to do with her as a former rockstar that had become very difficult to work with and also at a personal level was behaving oddly.

    We referred her to EAP, and she has said it was a fantastic experience that saved her. She had to idea how bad it had gotten or how to go about finding help. She was able to get treatment and return to her previous success professionally and personally. Hearing her talk about it is really inspiring.

  69. Nicole*

    Thank you for sharing this! I sent a letter to AAM a few days ago but it sounds like my EAP might be the right place to go to get an answer to my problem. Never even thought about it. This was really useful info!

  70. sometimeswhy*

    Oh this is great. Thank you so much.

    I called our EAP last year looking for help finding an interim therapist when I knew my insurance would be changing in a few months and had a great call but an overall not great result. They sent me a list of therapists that met my wishlist and every single one of them wasn’t accepting new patients so by the time I was done making phone calls and sending emails and getting “no, sorry. good luck!” literally fifty times, I was worse off than I was when I started so I gave up, cried a lot, and held on until the new insurance kicked in.

    After reading this interview, I’d feel ok trying again sometime.

  71. badatnames*

    Em, you sound amazing and now I sort of wish I had a question for an EAP.

    Though I am a little sad that the “Weird Companies” team doesn’t handle all the companies where the calls are always a little…strange. Like something’s up with the culture there, because we’ve never had so many requests for resources on remedial llama training or the appropriateness of their bikini dress code.

      1. Æthelflæd*

        I’m certain my company is on the “Weird Companies” list at our EAP because the company tends to be a bit extra, but now I wish we were so extra that we must be communicated with through the medium of handpuppetry. I would be calling the EAP all day, every day!

  72. oranges*

    Em, you sound amazing! I hope your own manager and company know how lucky they are to have you. (And compensate and promote you accordingly!)
    I’ve used our EAP at my job, and I found it extremely easy to access. My request was pretty entry level, but I’m happy such a program exists with such compassionate people as their front line.

  73. Properlike*

    I love these “what my job is” posts. EAP sounds like the type of job I would actually enjoy doing, and of course it’s not the thing you see pop up at most career days!

  74. Tigersmom*

    We had a flier go around at work about financial counseling through the EAP. One month free. My finances were a mess, credit card debt, living paycheck to paycheck. I got up my nerve and made the call. I continued on past the initial month (paying a fee). It’s been almost 9 years with them and has been SO worth it. I could probably manage on my own now, but it helps me keep on track knowing I’ll be talking to her soon. I’m debt free except for my mortgage, have $20K in savings, and was able to retire from a toxic job 1 1/2 years early. It’s like having my own personal cheerleader. My counselor is always supportive and never makes me feel bad even when I slip and do something stupid. Lately we’ve been working on some long-term financial goals, including starting a “new car” fund and planning some vacations out a couple years into the future. I can email her any time with questions that come up. I’m so glad I pushed myself into contacting the EAP.

  75. GreenDoor*

    Wow! I had no idea that EAP services can extend to family members, particularly children. We had an opening question to a work meeting recently along the lines of “name something our city needs.” I mentioned that there’s no grief counseling services geared for children, because they grieve differently than adults do. I am so glad to know that I can suggest EAP services to people with children who maybe affected by something going on with an adult.

  76. Dee Dee*

    This was an amazing interview. I had no idea of the wide scope of things an EAP covers. I think that all employers/HR departments should read this interview with the amazing Em and educate their employees on all the ways an EAP can benefit them. I feel that, like myself, most have no idea what a valuable resource it can be. And if you have a bad experience, try again and hopefully you’ll get someone as caring as Em.

  77. Anon for this*

    This was so interesting and informative, and Em, you sound amazing! I hope you work for my EAP! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us, and for being awesome at your job!

  78. OldHampshireNewHampshire*

    Em, you sound like an amazing person – thank you for the work you do. I’m a mental health first aider at my workplace, and I sometimes suggest colleagues contact our EAP program. Although I know in theory what they provide, I now have a much better insight into what the experience will be like.

  79. twocents*

    This was an excellent interview, and I really appreciated it! A couple years ago, my department was really turbulent: it was during a time when my work was undergoing massive reorgs, layoffs had been announced, and I was suddenly reporting to someone who knew nothing about me for a months-long limbo with no communication, which is really scary in thinking about the fact that they have no reason to protect me from being laid off. I ended up feeling really stressed and anxious for months.

    I decided to call EAP, and the first person on the call was basically a routing operator, but was really prickly and aggressive. I ended up in tears, and was thinking of hanging up, but the person they connected me to was so considerate and passionate, and I felt genuinely cared for by this stranger who made me feel like I wasn’t a complete idiot for being stressed and crying. I’m tearing up a little remembering how much he helped in talking to me for probably 30 minutes and getting me connected to the right services. Thank you for sharing about this Em! I know having the right person on the other end of that EAP call made a massive difference for me.

    1. BSMEengineer*


      I’ve never called an EAP, in fact I’m not sure I even have access to one.

      I now know how to benchmark one, if I ever call.

      It is a privilege to see how you provide service to others in need. Thank you for sharing with us.

  80. Mellow Yellow*

    Em, you sound like an amazing and kind person. This interview makes me wish I had an EAP to call! I’ve never worked anywhere that offered an EAP benefit.

  81. LQ*

    I used mine for legal support after a family member died. We were trying to figure out if we needed a lawyer to take care of everything and we got 2 hours of consultation with an attorney through the service who said basically, nah, it’s really straightforward and uncomplicated, here’s where you get to your paperwork and you’ll be ok. It was incredibly helpful.

  82. Small Business Owner*

    If an employer wanted to start offering an EAP as a benefit, what does that process look like? What’s the cost? Do EAPs even work with small businesses – or does it not make sense at a tiny scale?

    And how would an employer find a good EAP provider? (When I used one years ago, it was OK; but not what Em describes. More along the lines of: “Free session with one of our councilors. Then, here’s a list of 150 therapists covered by your insurance and within an X-mile radius, good luck.”)

    1. Em*

      That’s a really good question. I’m not in marketing or account management, so I’m not the best person to talk about what the signup process or costs look like. Based on the clients we serve, though, I suspect that it might not be economical for small business acting alone (though there are some which have access to us through their insurance companies, who contract with us for their clients).

      One of our corporate clients is a collection of similarly-themed small businesses (think something like an association of independent bakeries) who’ve gotten around the problem of scale by becoming something bigger for that particular purpose. The EAP for their employees is a fairly generous one that we’ve had for years, so I’m assuming it’s working out well.

  83. Squidhead*

    Thank you, Em! Thank you for the work you do and thank you for taking time to write about it.

    I work for a state hospital and something many of our employees don’t know is that they can call an EAP office in a whole different part of the state if it feels “too close to home” to call the local office. Obviously this only works because the state has EAP contracts for lots of agencies, but for anyone who works for a large, spread-out employer it may be an option. (Although clearly Em and co-workers take confidentiality very seriously, sometimes the fear of being recognized is a serious hurdle.)

  84. Actual OT*

    This is a great article! However, I’m concerned that they say they do “occupational therapy”- as an OT, I’m pretty sure you don’t, unless you too went to school for a master’s degree, competed months of internships, and took a board exam!

    1. Em*

      Like Coffeecoffeecoffee said — we “do” occupational therapy, as in that’s a service we offer, which is provided by actual occupational therapists. :)

  85. Ukgal*

    Do you offer alternatives to phone communication? I know that can be a barrier for people with anxiety and also those with hearing disabilities and auditory processing disorders amongst other things.

  86. Vivianne*

    I might be too late with this question, but do you recommend “reporting” a really bad call experience?

    I have had the same employer and EAP for over 6 years, and the first call I had with them was absolutely terrible, but it was also over a year ago.

    I had been crying literally all day (this was early evening on a weekend) so I finally decided to call for the first time, and the conversation went something like:
    Them: “Hello?”
    Me: “um, is this the EAP? (in my shaky, I’ve-been-crying voice)
    Them: “yes, this is EapCompanyName.”
    Me: “I uh, am not sure what I’m supposed to do next…”
    Them: “Well, this is after hours so it’s for emergencies only. Is this an emergency?”
    Me: “um, I’m not sure..”
    Them: “*sigh* well, it’s for emegencies only right now. Call back during CompanyHours for non-emergencies”
    Me: “um…Ok…” and I hung up.

    I then asked a family member who told me “Yes, this is an emergency, call them back.” and got a much better agent. Zero questions about what I needed, no safety questions, and clear annoyance with me. Fortunately I was not likely to harm myself that day and fortunately I had someone to call afterwards, but it honestly chills me to think that other people might have the same experience who ARE going to harm themselves or others, or don’t have someone to help them gain the courage to call again.

    Every call since has been decent to extremely good, so it’s not every employee, but it’s made me hesitant to call after hours when I needed help and instead called random hotlines only vaguely related to what I need.

    P.S. What an interesting interview, thank you to both of you!

    1. Em*

      It’s been a year, so probably a bit late for that one and I hope you never have another bad experience, but yes, please do report bad experiences. We’ll do a few different things: coach the employee in question if we know who it was, send out a reminder email to the floor “hey, someone called and this happened — please don’t do that! Do this instead,” and if it’s a thing that happens regularly we’ll review our processes and training. Knowing when we’ve screwed up helps us stop screwing up in that particular way (and lets us move on to bigger, more spectacular screwups ;) )

      1. Vivianne*

        Thank you so much for coming back to reply! And it’s good to know I should speak up if it happens again.

        I kind of figured that ship had sailed, but I was vacillating between the two extremes of “say something about this old incident” and “it would be weird to mention a problematic call if one ever it happens again” and your answer helped.

  87. Captain of the No Fun Department*

    This was incredible! Thank you Em and Alison! I am going to share this with everyone I know!

  88. Anon Dot Com*

    They will remember that when they called for help, the person on the other end listened to them, and cared, and didn’t make them feel small, or wrong, or like a burden.

    This really resonated with me. I called my EAP at a previous job due to a ton of work-related stress that was really impacting my mental health. The woman who answered the phone was so kind and understanding. She asked me about my life, she empathized, and then she found me a therapist and even made the first appointment for me. I’d never gone to therapy before, and it took me *months* to make that call to the EAP, so the supportive response from that woman is really what got me through the door.

  89. Sierra*

    I’m a therapist who takes EAP clients as a contractor and I love doing that work! I do think it’s good for parole to know it’s only for a few sessions. But I have helped people find more long term therapy if needed too.

  90. officefarmer*

    this is amazing, and such a welcome reminder of the good and good people that exist in the world. thank you for what you do

  91. SeluciaMD*

    This was an AMAZING read and so, so helpful! Alison, thank you for posting it – and Em, thank you for the work you do and for being so willing to share with the AAM crowd! I’m senior leadership in a quasi-governmental agency and realized we NEVER talk about our EAP as part of our benefits package. I’ve been here 11 years and haven’t ever even thought to suggest it to an employee, in large part because I don’t think I really understood what services they provided. After I read this, I immediately reached out to personnel and asked for an in-house training how to access our EAP and what they can do and I’m going to share this post with everyone in advance so they can think about what they might want to understand better or know more about related to our EAP.

    As others have said, this is one of the most interesting and most useful posts AAM has ever shared!

  92. IR*

    Em, you sound like an absolutely amazing person. This entire interview radiates with how much you care about your work. Your company is lucky to have you, as are each of your clients. Rock on.

  93. appletini*

    Can you call your spouse’s EAP? I need a therapist but I got laid off and don’t have my own EAP.

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