I’m Listening: EFAPs for What Ails Today’s Employees

Jul 19, 2018

In 1881, Sigmund Freud began researching the human mind and sparked the growth of the discipline of psychology. Despite its existence for over a hundred years, the average person’s understanding of the field is still largely limited to impressions from TV shows such as Frasier or Dr. Phil. Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) seem to also suffer from a similar misconception about their true nature.

When an employee hears the term EFAP, they probably picture someone lying on a couch telling their childhood story to a therapist sitting just out of sight somewhere behind them. But the truth is, these programs have so much more to offer than counselling alone.

Before we get into the scope of offerings, let’s look at the origins of the program. Most of us are familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD. Fewer people may know this term, previously known as ‘shell shock,’ first came into use post World War II as a more accurate and useful descriptor of how some veterans react to the traumas of war. A common hallmark was alcohol abuse, which became rampant in the workplace as vets struggled to adapt to civilian working life.

In response, many employers began a then innovative program to bring assistance in house for their vet employees. Unfortunately, only a mere ten per cent of employers offered this kind of EFAP in the two decades post war. It was only large organizations with <500 employees who had sufficient resources. Then, a big uptake happened through the following decade and into the 90’s when employers saw EFAPs as a way to help employees adjust to the dislocation caused by wide spread down-sizing in North American organizations. From there they evolved much into what we see today.

Nowadays, EFAPs are widely offered and their scope has broadened. There is still short-term, resolution-based counselling. But that’s just the start. There’s also assistance for a variety of issues. Some are directly work and career-related and some are work-life services like legal support for landlord-tenant issues or marital, daycare or eldercare resources. These are all typical of the suite of services now routinely offered by most providers. 

Life is fast now. Often tremendously so, as we’ve just discussed. But today, access to our offices and to work is instant and immediate, and creates high expectations. This induces a continual hyper-alertness that experts tell us is damaging over time. This kind of always on constancy creates more stress than that of even the recent past. Remember how leaving a message on an answering machine seemed like an intrusion? Well, now that just sounds quaint.

Given all this, wouldn’t it be nice to offload some of life’s big questions and problems to a professional EFAP? Can’t spare the time to get to a professional in person? No matter, session delivery is flexible, accessed either online, through apps or in group sessions. Sometimes the always on connectivity has its upside. So, look up your program, catch your breath, and maybe give a nod to your employer who really does have your back on this file.

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