What to look for in an external EAP service

Important questions to ask when evaluating EAPs

There is a natural disconnect in the employee assistance field, for it is a practice area that brings together two disparate worlds and frames of reference — that of business and that of the helping services.

Human resources managers are not typically trained in counselling, just as few helping professionals receive formal training in business.

The following framework should be of assistance to appraising the quality of and existing service, as well as for those needing to select a provider in the future.

Clinical services

1. Who does assessment and intake: is it a generic call centre or specialized counselling staff? Is it a medical or a psychosocial orientation? How many years of experience do intake staff have?

Does the same person become the case manager providing continuity of care or are there different persons involved between intake, initial assessment, ongoing counselling and case management, requiring the employee to retell his story several times? If it is two different groups, do intake staff have considerably less experience and education than do counselling staff?

2. What are the qualifications of the counsellors? What proportion are at the masters or doctorate level? How many years of service do they have? Relate this to the persons involved in the various steps outlined above. Keep in mind that a new bachelor of social work graduate will often have more actual client contact hours than many new masters of education, counselling or psychology graduates.

3. Will employees have access to a range of professionals: social workers, family therapists, addiction specialists, psychologists? Each profession is typically trained in a different way though basic counselling approaches are universal.

Stereotypically, social workers are ideal for assessing a person and seeing the person in his environment. Psychologists are the best for providing clinical psychological diagnosis. Addiction counsellors are the best for working with alcohol problems and other substance-related issues, but only a physician can prescribe mood altering medication. You should also ask if the various associated counselling professionals belong to professional associations (R.S.W., C.Psych, C.A.D.C., C.E.A.P.) with ethical review components and proscribed standards of professional practice.

4. What is the treatment philosophy of the service? Does it practice within a bio-psychosocial model, a wellness perspective, a family systems model or does it still use a disease orientation? If these ideas are unfamiliar to you, ask EAP providers for details of their philosophy and approach in your RFP.

5. Does the service provider respond to organizational based problems? Do you wish the provider to assist with organizational issues using a systems perspective or maintain a focus on fixing individual employee problems in isolation?

6. How is the need for long-term or specialized counselling handled, in terms of cost and clinical followup?

7. How are internal and external referrals done?

8. Are there any specialists on staff to deal with issues: addiction, compulsive gambling, sexual abuse, physical abuse, critical incident stress?

9. What languages are spoken?

10. What is the gender/culture mix of clinicians?

11. What ongoing professional development opportunities are there for clinical staff?

12. What has the staff turnover been in the last year?

13. What additional support services are available: committee work, promotion, publicity, seminars, outreach, staff training? What is the additional cost for these services?


1. What are the hours of service per day?

2. Are there weekend hours for assessment or counselling and what is the additional cost for this?

3. How many counselling sites (sub-offices) are there? Are these sites staffed by core staff or part-timers?

4. How is confidentiality ensured at these sites?

5. What is the time from initial call to first contact?

6. What is the time from initial call to first visit?

7.How many sessions can an employee have? Is there a cap on the number of visits or the number of times the service can be used in one year? Is there any empirical evidence supporting this cap? What are the clinical implications of this cap and can it be modified for clients who need additional assistance?


1. What type of record keeping system is maintained? What data is collected and shared with the organization?

2. How is evaluation done? Does the provider assist with needs assessments or outcome studies highlighting cost-benefit or cost-effectiveness to your organization? What is the cost for this research?

3. Is involvement on committees, training, education and promotion included in the cost or is this an additional fee?

4. What type of client satisfaction evaluation is conducted? How is this data used internally, with employees, with the organization?

5. How are internal staff evaluations conducted to assess whether appropriate clinical services are being provided?

Rick Csiernik is an associate professor and graduate studies co-ordinator at the School of Social Work, King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario in London. He is currently completing work on his new book entitled Wellness and Work: Occupational Assistance in the Canadian Context, to be published by Canadian Scholars Press. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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