Virtual counseling is a form of mental health counseling that is conducted over the Internet. This approach enables people to receive care from a licensed mental health professional from anywhere they have Internet access and a digital device, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
In the past few years, virtual counseling services have exploded in popularity, prompted by the safety protocols implemented during the pandemic and the growing acceptance of new communication tools, such as video conferencing and text messaging.
However, virtual counseling isn’t an entirely new concept. Its roots date back to the 1960s, when counselors started delivering mental health care telephonically, or via the telephone.
Why virtual EAPs are here to stay
The technology and infrastructure for today’s virtual counseling began to emerge in the 1990s, but the pandemic accelerated this shift toward greater acceptance and usage. According to the American Psychological Association, this quick and widespread adoption of virtual mental health care was largely enabled by the federal government’s declaration of a public health emergency (PHE), which led to several policy changes that made telehealth more feasible for patients and providers.
According to APA surveys, 30% of psychologists were offering both in-person and virtual services in 2020. By the end of 2021, that rate had jumped to 50% and has continued to climb. Although experts report that telehealth is here to stay, they also say that in-person counseling isn’t going away.
How virtual EAP support services help employees
Virtual EAP programs support employees in the same ways that traditional employee assistance programs support employees: They help people address everyday challenges that could negatively impact work or life. When people can find the support they need, they tend to be healthier, happier, more focused, and less stressed. They are also more likely to strengthen their family and workplace. Here is a closer look at how virtual employee assistant program services help support employees:
1. More ways to request services
Virtual services make it easier and more convenient for people to request services from their employee assistance program 24/7/365. Besides calling a toll-free phone number, people can request services through an online member portal, where they can fill out and submit a form indicating the type of services they would like to receive. Any personal information that an employee shares with the EAP provider remains private and confidential, following HIPAA rules and regulations.
2. More ways to receive care
In addition to in-person appointments and telephonic sessions, a virtual employee assistance program allows people to communicate with their EAP counselor via video counseling, live chat, and asynchronous text messaging. With virtual services, people can access their employee assistance program when they want, how they want, and from nearly anywhere they want, as long as they have Internet access and a digital device. People can also avoid the inconveniences of commuting to an in-person appointment.
3. More opportunities to take a proactive approach
The online member portal provides quick access to thousands of self-help tools and online resources, making it easier for people to learn about mental health issues proactively. Employees can access articles, videos, worksheets, surveys, health and lifestyle assessments, interactive checklists, online learning programs, and shopping discounts. Information is categorized by the following topics: family, health, finances, career, living, military, and college.
4. Enhancement to comprehensive EAPs
People expect immediate access to request support, with convenient options for care. By offering easy access to the same great services and care, virtual employee assistance program support services enhance comprehensive EAPs.
Short-term Counseling Sessions
Access to short-term counseling and behavioral health services can boost employee mental health by helping people address stress, anxiety, grief, depression, substance abuse, relationship issues, and work-related issues.
A life coach has training in helping people achieve more by forming healthy habits, learning new skills, and tapping into self-motivation and accountability. With the guidance of a life coach, employees can reach new goals, manage life transitions, improve stress management, and become more effective and productive.
Life coaching can also help in intangible ways by helping people strengthen relationships, increase self-esteem, improve work-life balance, develop preventative care strategies, and live a more purposeful life. Life coaching can also strengthen organizational health by improving employee engagement, work performance, and workplace culture.
Left unaddressed, financial stress can negatively impact an employee’s mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. A certified financial counselor can help with budget coaching, financial planning, and consultations on bankruptcy, homebuying, debt management, identity theft, retirement planning, and saving for college. Studies continue to show that financial wellness helps strengthen mental wellness.
A legal consultant can help employees and their family members address a variety of legal matters, such as estate planning, wills, real estate, bankruptcy, divorce, custody agreements, elder care, and adoption.
Work-Life Resources and Referrals
Work-life specialists help employees obtain resources and referrals for child care, elder care, pet care, adoption, and other life issues. They can also help employees obtain referrals for special needs support, such as education, enrichment activities, housing, transportation, and community resources. Having easy access to work-life resources and referrals can help people manage their concerns while avoiding the need to take time off or sick leave.
A medical social worker has specialized training in helping people navigate the healthcare system and can help people understand what is included in their benefits package or health insurance plan. They can explain claims and coverage and help secure doctor referrals, medical equipment, transportation, and options for transitional care, discharge, or follow-up services.
An employee assistance program generally includes the services of an account manager who provides support services to human resources and leadership teams in the form of unlimited telephone consultations.
Account managers have the necessary education and work experience to help supervisors address employee job performance and boost morale and productivity. For example, account managers can advise supervisors on when to make “formal” and “informal” referrals to the employee assistance program. They can also help secure training programs to help with work-life balance, caregiving challenges, managing change, communicating effectively, overcoming compassion fatigue, avoiding burnout, navigating conflict, and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Account managers can be a tremendous resource for onsite critical incident support, also referred to as a Critical Incident Response (CIR) or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD). Account managers can help organizations and leadership teams cope with various critical incidents impacting the workplace, such as natural disasters, an employee’s illness or death, workplace violence, layoffs, or other onsite traumatic incidents. The goal is to help people and organizations find the support they need to overcome challenges and move forward. Account managers can also help organizations obtain crisis management support services.
Considerations when evaluating virtual EAP options
Studies have shown that virtual counseling can be just as effective as face-to-face counseling and retention rates are often higher. When evaluating EAPs and mental health benefit platforms with virtual access to care, it’s important to ask the right questions up front:
- Do you know where your data is stored and how well it is protected?
- Does your vendor have a privacy and security officer, P&S policies, or any other designations?
- Is your vendor audited yearly by an outside firm to make sure that policies and processes are followed?
- Do they monitor their systems for attacks from the outside?
- How do they handle breaches?
The AllOne Health Difference
Having been in the business of care for more than 50 years, AllOne Health fully understands that mental health remains one of the most critical issues of our time. We also recognize that mental health, physical health, and behaviors are all intertwined, and they’re greatly influenced by relationships, surroundings, workplace culture, and other life challenges.
To meet the needs of today’s organizations and employees, AllOne Health has expanded its employee assistance programs to provide a whole health approach to benefits. We have also expanded our employee assistance programs to include both traditional and virtual services.
Just as people have grown more accustomed to virtual shopping and banking, today’s employees are becoming more accustomed to the convenience and accessibility of virtual employee assistance programs.
Employees Can Request Services 3 Different Ways
Employees can call their EAP 24/7/365 and speak with a real human being.
Employees can access the live chat from the EAP portal Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm ET. If an employee is in crisis, they will be referred to in-the-moment counseling provided over the phone.
Online Request Form
Employees can request services from the EAP portal. They have the option of requesting mental health counseling or work-life resources and referrals.
Human Connection, Available 24/7/365
At AllOne Health, employees can call their employee assistance program any time, day or night, weekends and holidays, and reach a real human being who is ready to listen and prepared to provide guidance and support.
If a call requires immediate attention, intake specialists will instantly connect the caller to a master’s level clinician, who can provide in-the-moment counseling services, which usually involve compassionate listening, sharing de-escalation techniques and coping strategies, and determining the appropriate next steps to address the employee’s needs.
In most cases, callers work with an intake specialist, who will ask a series of questions and then refer the caller for short-term mental health sessions or some other solution-focused counseling, such as a legal or financial consultant or a work-life specialist.
The EAP program can be a great addition to any benefits package, as it supports the needs of employees and employers. The ultimate goal of an EAP is to improve employee wellness while enhancing the work environment.
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