Understanding how many sessions Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) cover

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The TL;DR:
  • Traditional EAPs usually offer a maximum of three to six counselling sessions per employee per calendar year.
  • Many alternative EAPs (like Sonder) don't cap the number of counselling sessions members can access, allowing the healthcare provider to decide how many sessions will be most beneficial on a case-by-case basis-ensuring the best care for members.
  • Alternatives, like Sonder, are helping employees to gain the support 24/7, with a blend of counselling, psychology sessions and mental health resources available on the app.
Prioritising your team's mental health and wellbeing is enormously valuable. According to recent estimates by PwC, every dollar your company spends on fostering a mentally healthy workplace can deliver, on average, a positive ROI of 2.3.

However many employees struggle to open up about their mental health challenges-with recent research showing 42% of Australian workers with poor mental health didn't discuss their challenges with anyone at work.

Launching Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) tends to be the preferred approach to creating happier, healthier work environments, giving employees a confidential support pathway outside of work. But they do come with limitations. Often traditional EAPs have a session cap that limits support to only short-term interventions.

To help you understand the scope of support from EAPs, we're diving into the number of sessions typically offered by these programs, the challenges of short-term focused support and why EAP alternatives are paving the way forward for impactful, lasting change.

Decoding session limits: how many sessions are included in traditional EAPs?

EAPs are designed to provide short-term, confidential counselling support to employees grappling with personal or workplace-related challenges. However, the number of sessions offered can vary significantly from one EAP provider to another.

Typically, most EAPs allocate around three to six sessions per employee per calendar year.

These confidential sessions are designed for employees seeking "non-acute mental health support." With many crisis support services facing staffing challenges, EAPs are often positioned as an alternative avenue of support to take the pressure off crisis hotlines where demand is outstripping supply.

EAP session limits: why is there a cap on support?

While EAPs typically offer up to six sessions, many psychologists note that it can take upwards of 12 sessions to see meaningful change for those navigating mental health challenges.

Studies back this up, with long-term therapy shown to be more effective than short-term therapies at supporting workers with psychiatric disorders (like depression and anxiety).

So, where does this cap come from? Generally, EAPs enforce session limits to keep down expenses for employers. With a fee-for-service pricing model, companies can see costs skyrocketing if teams show high engagement with EAP counselling (particularly in larger teams).

Because EAPs are free for employees, introducing session caps means employers can regain some control over how much they'll need to pay to facilitate this support. Unfortunately, this means the level of support offered by traditional EAPs is narrow in scope and focused on short-term interventions.

The challenges of short-term interventions

So, how do session limits impact the counselling experience for employees? Recent research into the impacts of time limits on therapy reveals a number of interesting trends:

  • Focus on directive vs active therapy: With time pressures in place, the short-term nature of EAPs means therapists often have to take on a directive role that instructs clients about how to tackle their challenges (rather than working collaboratively to build resilience and skills to prevent these challenges coming up again in the future).
  • Increased client dissatisfaction: Clients tend to feel less satisfied with the therapy experience when delivered as a short-term intervention, with less time to dig below the surface and tackle the root causes of their challenges.
  • Drawbacks of a one-size-fits-all approach: Despite clients presenting with a unique range of concerns, short-term interventions require therapists to deliver sessions in a standardised way-without the ability to tailor strategies or techniques based on the individual needs of each client.

"It's not as simple as hey, here's your counselling session. Most individuals need multiple pathways. It's going to be very different based on what's happening in each individual's own personal life, their work and their family dynamics. It's important to understand how complex people are and to not lead with a one-size-fits-all approach."

- Leanne Naber, Senior Account Executive at Sonder

The next challenge with limited EAP counselling is it can lead to a lack of care continuity. After an employee's handful of employer-funded sessions is up, they'll need to switch counsellors and rebuild the therapy relationship from scratch. In effect, this causes this employee to go back to square one with their progress.

Plus, accessibility is a major challenge employees are likely to face when trying to secure ongoing support from a therapist outside of their company's EAP. Currently, 1 in 3 psychologists in Australia are unable to see new clients due to overwhelming demand.

Clients are waiting up to 3 months to see a psychologist, with some waiting over 6 months. Source: Australian Psychological Society.

With rising out-of-pocket costs and long wait times, it's not surprising that the number of Australians who have delayed or avoided seeking mental health care has grown by 50%.

While short-term counselling can be a good starting point for employees navigating personal or work-related challenges, the limited scope of traditional EAP counselling means its effectiveness can be incredibly limited.

How Sonder supports employees at all stages of their wellbeing journey

Unsurprisingly, more employers are looking for alternatives to the narrow scope of care offered by traditional EAPs. With just six counselling sessions on offer, forward-thinking companies are exploring more holistic approaches to employee health and wellbeing that focus on preventative, rather than reactive, care.

At Sonder, we saw the drawbacks of traditional EAPs and the potential ripple effects of leaving employee wellbeing concerns unaddressed. Rather than only intervening when an employee is facing a crisis moment, our platform gives employees the ability to prevent crises in the first place proactively.

We realise there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, meaning not every employee needs to go straight to counselling. It's why our app offers on-demand resources as a preventative measure, working in tandem with our self-assessments, to help your people incrementally improve their mental health.

A Sonder support pathway can take members from an article, to an assessment, to a conversation with a nurse in minutes.

Here's how:

  • Wellbeing resources hub: From stress and anxiety to financial challenges, employees can gain real-time access to self-service resources within the Sonder app. Plus, we allow employees to go from reading an article to taking a stress assessment to starting a conversation with a registered nurse in a matter of minutes.
  • 24/7 on-demand support: In our research of 10,000+ active members, we found that 57% of people seek support after business hours. With the Sonder app, your employees can gain access to the care they need, whenever they need it.
A quote from Woolworths describing how the use Sonder to extend better care to their employees
  • Holistic approach to care: Rather than treating only mental health challenges, Sonder splits our scope of care across medical, safety and mental health support. This means employees can gain real-time access to medical advice, personal safety tools and mental health support, with a specialist care team available 24/7 to triage and address issues whenever they arise.
  • Stepped model of care: We use an evidence-based care approach and a Stepped Care Model that tailors the level of support to the individual needs of each member. This allows us to personalise each person's care and make the best use of all the resources available to us.
Diagram of the Sonder Stepped Care Model that tailors the level of support to the individual needs of each member.

At Sonder, we believe it's important for employees to be able to gain access to as many counselling sessions as they need. Our fixed pricing model encourages high employee uptake and better wellbeing outcomes, with clear upfront pricing that keeps employers in control of budgets.

Ready to explore a new way of approaching employee wellbeing that's holistic and proactive?

Discover how Sonder can enhance your organisation's approach to employee assistance. Book a demo today and join the movement towards a more effective, empathetic, and inclusive workplace wellbeing strategy.

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