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by Susan Hirshorn

In the past five years, Concordia's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has helped more than 100 faculty and staff members deal with troublesome issues and crises.

"It's there for the benefit of the entire Concordia community," said Miriam Posner, chair of the employee-managed EAP Committee. Full-time faculty, staff and their immediate family members can get counselling by calling a 24-hour hotline. The service is provided through the University, with no direct cost to the employee.

The EAP movement began in the l940s in response to increasing awareness of the relationship between alcohol consumption and absenteeism, health care costs, accidents and productivity problems. During the 1980s and '90s, EAP was redefined and expanded to address a wide variety of issues related to personal and job stress.

Today, the cornerstone of EAP is short-term, confidential psychological and social counselling covering family, self and the broad spectrum of human relationships: career, legal and financial matters, as well as concerns over alcohol/drug use and other potentially addictive behaviour.

Sometimes people who enter counselling are experiencing persistent anxiety, sadness or other distressing emotions without knowing the source. Others can pinpoint the problem but are uncertain about how to deal with it. The role of the EAP counsellor is to provide caring, objective guidance that helps clients identify and clarify their concerns, develop options toward resolving them, and implement those options.

Depending on the EAP assessment, clients may receive as many as eight counselling sessions, or they may be referred to an appropriate outside resource. "However, most people don't need months or years of professional counselling," Posner explained. "The short-term approach has proved very effective at unleashing peoples' innate problem-solving abilities and at nipping problems in the bud."

Concordia's EAP is delivered by psychology and social service professionals associated with the firm Warren Shepell Consultants. Their qualifications include, at minimum, a Master's degree, as well as several years of experience related to their areas of expertise.

Marie-Louise Robichaud is the firm's regional clinical director. "If the caller is experiencing some sort of crisis, she or he can talk to a professional counsellor immediately, over the phone," she said. "Otherwise, the caller can arrange an appointment at one of our private, off-campus locations."

Nina Peritz, EAP's internal coordinator, said great care is taken to ensure confidentiality. Counsellors and other EAP staff will not discuss a client's situation with anyone (unless outside intervention is necessary in order to protect physical health and safety). Two people from Concordia will not have back-to-back appointments with the same counsellor, ensuring that they will not accidentally run into each other, and identifying phone messages are never left at home or at work.

User satisfaction with the service is measured by anonymous reports, voluntarily filled out and mailed back to the EAP committee. "People are happy with the professionalism and rapid response of the service," said Posner, who is a technical supervisor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

Information about the range of EAP services (which include monthly lunchtime seminars) can be obtained from Nina Peritz, the program's internal coordinator. Call 848-3667, or e-mail Nina at peritz@alcor. concordia.ca. For private counselling, call 1-800-361-5676 (English-language service) or 1-800-387-4765 (French-language service).

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