Face-to-face — but not in-person

Video counselling broadens options for employees in need
By Barb Veder and Kelly Beaudoin
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/24/2014

Workforces and workplaces are changing. Organizations are realizing the stresses of everyday life can interfere with job performance, while more serious physical and mental health issues can result in extended absences. As a result, the use of employee assistance programs (EAPs) is a popular option — and employers are actively encouraging workers to make use of this resource whenever they need assistance.

The challenge is employees are often spread across the country and even around the world. And EAPs that help promote employee productivity must keep pace in order to accommodate employees’ changing needs. Fortunately, technological advancements — and a greater comfort level with using online resources — make video counselling, tele-health and tele-mental health possible and feasible support options.

The driving force behind the development of video counselling was the need to provide hard-to-reach employees in remote locations with an easy and convenient way to access their EAPs.

The added benefit is video counselling isn’t just useful for employees in remote locations — it’s helpful to other employees as well. It’s a great choice for workers and their immediate family members who prefer to have a real-time, face-to-face conversation with a counsellor and whose work or personal schedules, high need for privacy, limited mobility or personal preference may create hurdles to attending in-person sessions.

Since the video conferencing capability is able to link in multiple participants simultaneously, even couples and families who are in geographically different locations are able to attend sessions together. There’s no commuting to an office, no chance of being seen in a waiting room, no parking fees… in fact, no need to even leave the house.

Ensuring security and privacy

To connect with a video counsellor, an employee (or his family member) needs private access to a computer with a high-speed Internet connection, a webcam and a telephone. Encrypted custom Internet software enables both client and counsellor to see and hear each other. They can also share and create documents in real-time. Clients can use their personal computers at home.

Many popular public platforms (such as Skype) are unsuitable for video counselling services because they are not compliant with the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), use VOIP technology (which is not as good quality as regular phone lines) and have limited technological support.

When choosing an EAP provider for video counselling services, employers should determine whether the selected platform:

•complies with applicable privacy requirements

•allows for a customized, branded website

•facilitates document-sharing

•supports multiple participants in several locations

•provides immediate tech support in French or English (and any other required languages).

The video counselling session

During the session, both parties are able to see and hear each other as if they were in the same room. The counsellor and employee are also able to share and create secure documents in real-time.

However, it’s important to ensure video counselling is the best fit for a person’s needs when she first accesses the service. High-risk employees and those in need of a service beyond the scope of video counselling should be triaged accordingly.

Video counselling is not appropriate for cases where people present suicidal or homicidal intent, domestic abuse or violence of any kind, severe addictions issues, psychotic episodes or psychiatric crises, any manner of crisis that requires immediate support or where there is evidence of a child being harmed or at risk. EAP counsellors should have an established emergency triage plan in place to handle these situations.

Effectiveness of video counselling

Video counselling and in-person counselling have similar outcomes when it comes to session
attendance, rates of session helpfulness, pre- and post-counselling self-assessments and rates of goal completion, according to 2013 Shepell research using data from 136 cases involving both methods.

And while there is a greater improvement of pre- and post-self-rated mental health for in-person counselling, The Effectiveness of Video Counselling for EFAP Support found there are lower withdrawal and no-show numbers for video counselling — perhaps because employees can access the service from home.

Technology savvy is not a major barrier to accessing video counselling. Slightly more individuals who are 50 years old or older opted for video counselling rather than in-person counselling, found the survey.

For many Canadian workers, an EAP is the easiest and most effective way to access timely, confidential, no-cost counselling through its capacity to offer multi-modal clinical services across client demographics, locales and presenting issues.

Providing employees with a variety of channels to access EAP counselling is necessary in order for them to be productive and healthy. Video counselling has proven to be a successful and highly valued service option.

Barb Veder is vice-president of clinical services and research lead and Kelly Beaudoin is manager of clinical communications at Shepell. Beaudoin can be reached at clinicalcommunications@shepellfgi.com.

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