If you work for a company in the United States, you may have seen “EAP” as an offered benefit. This stands for “Employee Assistance Program“. Along with some wellness benefits, it often offers some coverage for counseling or therapy. At first glance, it looks like a good way for the company to support their employees. Certainly, funding gym memberships or paying for exercise equipment is great. What about those counseling sessions though?
How It Works
If your company provides this benefit you are eligible to receive 3 sessions fully covered regardless of your health plan with an in-network counselor or therapist. This can range from career counseling to treatment of mental illness. I think you may even be able to make a case for a personal trainer to fall under this umbrella.
Typically, EAP benefits are provided through a third-party company whose website you go to for providers. Often this website has a ton of other resources. I’ve seen company discounts and coupons along with tests to tell you whether you’re cheating on your spouse (no, it doesn’t make sense). Often the material seems like a random collection of generic advice and then that search engine for people in network.
How It Doesn’t Work
I see the EAP plan as someone offering me a towel when my house is flooding: it’s a nice gesture and might help me feel a little better but doesn’t solve my problem. The flood, in my case, would be a series of stress related mental health issues and the towel is those 3 counseling sessions. These are a few things I’ve learned that make this benefit useless:
- It takes 1 to 2 sessions to determine if you can work with a particular counselor. Sometimes it can take longer for the therapist to evaluate whether they can help you. There goes those 3 sessions and you got nothing for it.
- Your physician may have a “care team” with a counselor included. This is super useful when both of them can work together to give you the best combination of medication and behavioral treatment. Oh, but that counselor isn’t in the EAP network, even if they are in your health plan network. So much for saving some medical expenses.
- Finally, therapists hate dealing with insurance, much like everyone does. Unfortunately, the EAP is an additional round of paperwork for them. So, the counselors that are successful and well-liked by their clients don’t really need the additional traffic boost the EAP gives them. So guess who’s left in the EAP search engine?
What Needs To Change?
I don’t know. I only have my own case to look at and say “EAP doesn’t work or make sense for me” but who knows, maybe it isn’t just lip service and people have been helped by it. However, to make this something other than an irritating reminder of how poor our mental health support is, here are some things that I think would make it better:
- Remove the in-network limitation
- Cover 2 introductory sessions with any new therapist up to once every 3 months (supporting those searching for the right one)
- Allow an additional covered session for “qualifying life events” such as divorce, bereavement, or a new medical diagnosis
- Provide career and life advice to employees generated by the company’s HR department, not some generic employee support company that tells you how to shop for a tie
I hope you learned more about what EAPs are and I hope they are more useful to you than they’ve been for me.