An employment assistance program (EAP) counselor is a person who provides assistance to people who are having problems at work. Large companies may have a staff of EAP counselors available for their personnel and sometimes additional counselors are hired to help employees during stressful periods, such as when they are completing major projects on deadline or adjusting to new management. It is also sometimes possible to see an EAP counselor outside the workplace through a community agency or program designed to assist people while they are working.
A typical EAP counselor has at least a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field and many have master's degrees along with related experience. Although they work for companies, the work they do is confidential. Only EAP counselors have access to records kept in their offices and they do not report on anything they hear unless there is a belief that an employee may be in danger, in which case the counselor may be required to submit a report.
An EAP counselor can help people with problems that are affecting performance at work, even if they are not related to work. Common topics include stress, bereavement, substance abuse problems, conflicts with coworkers, divorces, adjustments to new departments or personnel, and depression. The EAP counselor can provide people with coping tools, as well as information about programs and services they may find helpful. If a program is beyond a counselor's scope, a referral to another person or agency may be offered.
Confidentiality is a key part of an EAP counselor's work, and these professionals take the privacy and safety of employees who come to see them very seriously. If an employee does not want to visit an EAP counselor at work because it might attract attention, arrangements can be made for an after hours visit or a meeting at another location. Employees are not required to take any of the recommendations made in counseling, nor do they need to report to anyone on what happens in counseling.
Some people can find working with an EAP counselor very helpful. Having a friendly ear can help people process and work through problems and constructive advice may assist people with addressing specific issues. EAP counselors are used by employers to manage situations while they are small, with the goal of avoiding costly lost productivity and other problems that may develop if employees allow issues to fester. People in workplaces where counseling is not provided as a free service may consider asking agencies that provide assistance with work-related matters about counseling referral programs and services that may be of use.