Personal Consulting and Coaching

From EAP to Coaching


I remember clearly when one of my favorite, most reliable providers, a PhD Psychologist, told me he was no longer taking therapy clients. It was the old story, but it snuck up on me. He was sick of managed care, paperwork, and clients not invested in the process. As I was barely absorbing that news he said, “I’m going into Personal Coaching, and actually, you’re someone who should think about doing that too.”

Back in 2002, when I began in my most recent EAP position, I had only a rudimentary notion of what Coaching was. What I did know was that, as a practical matter, I was very unhappy with my available EAP referral options. Even when I began my EAP work way back in 1987, I’d always chafed under the expectation that most of my referrals would be to psychotherapists and substance abuse counselors.

Those reservations were exacerbated by the size of the client pool. Our service contract included all State government employees as well as all of the employees of the State’s largest electric utility, plus other large and medium sized businesses in the Capital area. Now I was facing a drastic shortage of insurance reimbursable clinicians and counselors, psychiatrists to prescribe meds, and, frankly, solid professionals of any stripe who would serve my clients and respond in a timely fashion to follow-ups from me. It’s not that there weren’t ANY quality providers. There were, of course, but they were the ones who tended to be booked solid.

Fortunately for me, the model I worked under allowed State employees as many as six visits to the EAP, and over time I found my style evolving away from psychotherapy to short-term counseling and consulting – active (rather than non-directive,) two-way dialogue, case management – as the best adaptation to client needs, especially in today’s postmodern cultural environment. It had always been a bit of a tug on me to largely be recommending further counseling (of the mental health variety) to clients who might really be needing something else. What made EAP work a good fit for me as a provider was the ability to move away from the disease model unless I truly thought it fit the particular case.

That’s the link for me, because it’s actually what Coaching is all about. Yes, there are probably sound reasons why EAP’s hire people with clinical credentials like mine. They have obligations regarding that initial assessment, particularly its ability to detect chemical dependency or mental illness. Liability and workplace policies sometimes trump optimal outcomes, because a referral to a credentialed mental health provider is a safer, more defendable action. I’ve been there. My point simply is that, now more than ever, a portion of today’s EAP clients would be better served if referred to Professional Coaches rather than therapists.

The other strand that points to utilizing Coaching is the special perspective EAP’s have regarding cases arriving for assessment that are not personal problems, but have their roots in the workplace – poor communication, conflict, performance issues, inept supervision, downsizing, layoffs, critical incidents, etc. In the business world “coaching” – as in managers coaching their direct reports and facilitating teamwork – is a huge industry. I’ve done a lot of coaching that we simply called “consultation” to supervisors struggling with managing some of their employees (and, above all, themselves) in a highly charged workplace environment. Managers often need coaching to learn to “coach” their employees.

I’d anticipated needing to pioneer the merits of Professional Coaching as a valuable service option for EAP’s. But as I surf the net I can see that many have already gone before me – advocating, serving clients, proving their value to everyone’s satisfaction. Many EAP’s now actually highlight their coaching services as an added value to their services offered. Which is great. Coaching fits everywhere with EAPS: direct services to individual clients, coaching managers on workplace issues, consulting to the workplace itself to improve the culture, helping supervisors “coach” their employees, case consultation if an EAP counselor needs resources, etc

In fact, it’s a natural fit.

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Shaun,

    I came across your 2007 article on how the EAP is starting to incorporating coaching into their service model and I was wondering if you could tell me more. I am a certified coach specializing in life balance and stress reduction and I think many people seeking EAP support would very much benefit from my services. Might you be able to share with me if EAP utilizes the services of certified coaches. Thank you in advance for your time.

    All my best,


    1. Hi Kirsten-

      I may have spoken too soon, although I certainly think EAPs should refer more to coaches, and ultimately will. I keep going in and out of serious attempts at marketing my own services to EAPs since they’re an obvious match with me. Not only do many EAP clients NOT need therapy for their problems, many of the problems centered in the workplace itself would obviously benefit from good coaching.

      Last year, in a flurry of energy, I made a push to contact a bunch of major, national EAP providers, and everyone without exception said they can and do refer to coaches. But my attempt to break ground for coaching as a referral source never quite panned out. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received a handful of EAP referrals here in Maine, but as seems to always be the case, the EAP person knew me personally.

      Because there can be formal, legal ramifications to any workplace referral, Employee Assistance Programs still tend to favor the clinical credential. Partly it’s old habits, partly it’s CYA – plus EAPs have been incorporated into many healthcare plans these days. That makes it even more clinically-oriented, with lawyers hovering just over the horizon.

      That’s a major reason why I’ve kept my LCSW

      I think that frontier still remains to be conquered by coaching.

      I’ll add some thoughts, but I wanted to respond quickly.

      Thanks for your comment.


      PS You’re right about stress management. It’s a well-established service EAPs provide and are always looking to contract for if they don’t provide it themselves.

  2. Hi Shaun,

    Thanks for this article! I would love to chat further – our nonprofit is in the beginning stages of forming an EAP – and we really would like to integrate coaching into our model. We’re desiring to offer not just an EAP referral service, but ongoing on-site employee and leadership development processes in conjunction with off-site retreats and training experiences.


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