Is Your Employee Assistance Program Doing Enough?

Employee assistance programs are often outsourced to external firms. However, these services are not always up to par. That is what the Quebec Association of psychologists finds in its latest study. Here is an overview.


In theory, employee assistance programs (EAPs) are supposed to help improve employee health and productivity by preventing or healing their personal or work-related problems. In practice, however, the proliferation of private firms that specialize in EAP services in Quebec perhaps does more harm than good to employees. A study led by psychologist Raymond Gabriel Therrien on behalf of the Association of Psychologists of Quebec (APQ) highlights this issue.


The world of commodification

On trial: the ‘all too commercial’ ambitions of these sub-contracting firms whose numbers keep increasing in Quebec – the authors stated there were 24 in the private sector at the time of the study’s publication in 2013. Specifically, the study targets business practices such as excessive marketing, the rationalization of all operating costs and the race towards monopoly. “The larger the profit […], the more likely it will lead to ethical problems and a demise in the quality in services [received],” the study states.


Consequences: a structure and operations that tend to become bureaucratic, normative and impersonal. “While it would take 12 to 15 meetings to properly help a certain patient, you find yourself limited to 3 or 4 when dealing with EAP firms,” says Paul Loubier, co-author of the study. Firms will also require consultations up to a maximum of 50 minutes, a policy that “has no clinical foundation […], but rather a commercial rationale.”


The patient is the loser

Some even go so far as to “prohibit dialogue between the clinical psychologist and the physician,” says Loubier. “Everything to look good in front of the companies who contract their services.” In other words, there is a real distortion of the practice of psychology in the context of EAP that we are witnessing. A denaturation where the forgotten are the employees experiencing real difficulties.


And it's not about to change. In Quebec and Canada, the number of private practice psychologists is so high that it produces a highly competitive field. Result: private firms employing them in EAP cases have the beautiful advantage of keeping their fees low – sometimes more than a plumber – in order to obtain the best possible contracts. “For many, this type of practice is a way to fill the gaps in their schedule,” states Loubier.


The vice-president of the APQ at the time of the study’s publication deplores the failure of therapeutic relationships resulting for this ‘race for profits.’ "The resulting practices can really hurt the customers," he says.

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