Are you reviewing your long list of company-sponsored health and wellness benefits? Don’t gloss over your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)! The EAP is one of the most underutilized company benefits. An EAP is a work-based program that provides solutions for personal challenges like alcohol or substance misuse, child or elder care, relationship concerns, financial or legal problems, and even traumatic events. If you and your partner are exploring couples counseling or couples therapy, tapping into your EAP may be a beneficial resource. 

But before you jump into an EAP program, it’s essential to understand how the program works and what role it can play in your couples counseling journey. 

The 3 most important things to know about an EAP

Reaching out for help can produce some nerves. It helps if you know some basics of what to expect when you contact your EAP provider for a counseling referral. 

  1. Your EAP is voluntary. That means you, the employee, have to choose to access the services. 
  2. Your EAP is confidential. Neither your human resources department nor your manager will have access to your EAP usage information. However, there are some exceptions called Supervisory Referrals that do require a level of communication from the EAP counselor to the HR representative/manager (i.e., attendance/compliance). Supervisory Referrals are only going to be recommended for employees with related work performance or behavioral concerns. However, what is discussed in your EAP sessions remains confidential. 
  3. While every plan differs, most EAPs provide at least five free counseling sessions per benefit year. 

The EAP referral and counseling processes abide by the same standards such as respecting individuals and their family members’ confidentiality per HIPAA law just like practitioners in counseling agencies and private practices do; however, it is important to understand the primary differences in what EAPs offer vs. traditional therapy settings. 

EAP couples counseling vs. Traditional couples counseling

It can be challenging to parse the differences between EAP and traditional counseling. To better understand the difference, here is an everyday example to draw a parallel. 

Think about your EAP counseling benefit as your Primary Care Physician (PCP). Let’s pretend that you have an appointment set with your PCP to discuss some recent concerns related to potential allergies. Your PCP will do an assessment and may prescribe medication and discuss some strategies for mitigating your symptoms. The medication may temporarily relieve some symptoms, but your underlying issues need special attention. Therefore, your PCP refers you to a specialist to take a deeper look at your problem. 

EAP counseling, particularly couples counseling, can work similarly. Couples can often find some relief with EAP counseling for communication issues like conflict management concerns, work-life-relationship balance challenges, or specific communication struggles. In many cases, brief, solution-focused work can help a great deal. Because EAP provides a set maximum number of sessions, it’s common for couples to be referred to a licensed therapist or counselor who specializes in relationships for longer-term counseling. 

Due to the complexities of couples’ issues, many couples go on to work with a licensed therapist who may have a sub-specialty in an area that best fits their needs, like addiction, infidelity, infertility, and trauma. In traditional counseling, there are no session limits; thus, couples can address their complex concerns more thoroughly. In other words, EAP for couples counseling is a short-term solution, while traditional counseling allows couples to spend as much time as necessary to work through their concerns. 

How does EAP couples counseling refer into traditional couples therapy? 

So, how can you use the EAP benefit and ensure you and your partner get the type of therapy you need? Simply put, EAP counseling can help a couple lay the groundwork. An EAP clinician can provide initial guidance and support when beginning your therapy journey. Most clinicians can help with some acute stress and help you organize your thoughts, feelings, and goals for your relationship. 

If your EAP clinician identifies a need for more specialized therapy, you can secure a referral in one of two ways:

  1. EAP Clinician Referral: Your EAP clinician can set up a referral out of the EAP network to a different therapist or counselor near you who can continue the more specialized work. 
  2. Self-referral: A self-referral is when the EAP clinician continues working with you outside of the EAP benefit and transitions you and your partner to traditional couples therapy. A self-referral can occur if there is good rapport and the EAP therapist feels confident that they can assist you and your partner on deeper-rooted issues. A self-referral should be a collaborative discussion between the clinician and the couple (you and your partner). You and your partner will begin to self-pay at the therapist’s regular rate or utilize your insurance.

It’s important to remember that EAP counseling will likely not solve complex issues due to its short-term nature. EAP couples counseling will, in most cases, serve as a safe and confidential space to explore stress, provide support, and, if needed, create a game plan for continued work. 

If we are “referred out,” what should we expect? 

If you are referred out of EAP counseling to traditional, long-term therapy, here are a few things you should consider as you evaluate providers: 

  • Preferences: What type of therapist would best fit you and your partner? More specifically, what traits are most important to you in a therapist? Which areas of expertise would be best for your case? 
  • Payment: Would you like to find a provider who can directly bill your insurance, or are you open to self-pay providers who may be able to provide a superbill for reimbursement? 
  • Coordination of care: Would you like your EAP clinician to provide your new therapist with assessment findings? The assessment findings will help ease your transition between therapists. Your EAP clinician will have you sign a Release of Information (ROI) to initiate that communication. 

Diving into deep-rooted patterns and cycles within your relationship may be uncharted territory and present as an intimidating task. Your therapist knows this and will meet you where you are. To understand more about that first session, and maybe decrease anxiety before that initial meeting, check out this blog post that covers expectations and offers questions to ask your therapist in the first session. 

Ready to prioritize your relationship?

It’s critical to understand how EAPs work, how couples can benefit from the free service, and how EAP counseling can set the stage for comprehensive couples counseling. If you are an NC, SC, AZ, or TX resident looking for traditional, long-term counseling options, we have experienced therapists available to help you. You can contact us for more information and schedule your first appointment.