What is an EAP counselor?

An employment assistance program (EAP) counselor is a person who provides assistance to people who are having problems at work. Large companies may have a staff of EAP advisors available to their staff, and additional advisors are sometimes brought in to help employees during stressful periods, such as when they are completing important projects on deadline or adjusting to new management . Sometimes it's also possible to see an EAP counselor outside of the workplace through a community agency or program designed to help people while they work.

A typical EAP counselor has at least a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field, and many have master's degrees along with related experience. Although they work for companies, the work they do is confidential. Only EAP counselors have access to the records kept in their offices and do not report anything they hear unless it is believed that an employee may be in danger, in which case the counselor may be required to file a report.

An EAP counselor can help people with problems that affect job performance, even if they are not work-related. Common themes include stress, grief, substance abuse problems, conflicts with co-workers, divorce, adjustments to new departments or staff, and depression. The EAP counselor can provide individuals with coping tools as well as information about programs and services that may be helpful to them. If a program is out of scope for a counselor, a referral to another person or agency may be offered.

Confidentiality is a key part of an EAP counselor's job, and these professionals take the privacy and security of employees who come to see them very seriously. If an employee does not want to visit an EAP counselor at work because she might attract attention, arrangements can be made for an after-hours visit or a meeting at another location. Employees are not required to take any of the recommendations made in the counseling, nor do they need to tell anyone about what happens in the counseling.

Some people may find working with an EAP counselor very helpful. Having a friendly ear can help people process and resolve problems, and constructive advice can help people address specific problems. Employers use EAP advisors to manage situations while they are small, with the goal of avoiding costly lost productivity and other problems that can arise if employees allow problems to fester. People in workplaces where counseling is not provided as a free service may consider asking agencies that provide assistance with work-related matters about counseling programs and referral services that may be helpful.

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