Most of us are familiar with the story of the three blind men who are asked to describe an elephant. Each is given one part of the elephant to feel. The man who feels the tail describes it as a snake, the man who feels the leg describes it as a tree trunk, and the man who feels the trunk describes it as a rope.
The story is old enough and true enough that it shouldn't surprise me that the same thing happens when we ask people to tell us what they think the Academic and Staff Assistance Program does. It seems to depend on the type of service they got from ASAP. Periodically, I feel the need to address this more broadly, so people will have more understanding of the different things we do and how they tie together into one common purpose.
ASAP is an Employee Assistance Program. An EAP is defined as a worksite program to assist employers in addressing productivity issues and help employee-clients identify and resolve concerns, including health, marital, family, financial, work, job, etc., that may affect their job performance. That covers a pretty broad range of activities. So it is not surprising that someone who sees us for a management consult thinks of us as management consultants, while those who see us for personal problems see us as a counseling center. To me, the easiest way to look at an EAP is to think of it as a problem-solving venue.
Our goal is to help the individual, department, and/or organization resolve problems by defining the problem, identifying possible resolutions, and helping employees get the necessary resources to resolve the problem. To accomplish these goals, we adhere to a core set of ethics and best practices, known as EAP core technologies. First, there is consultation with managers, supervisors, union stewards or others who are seeking to manage troubled employees and enhance work environments. Second is problem identification/assessment for employee-clients with concerns that may affect job performance. Third is the use of short-term intervention with employee-clients to address problems that affect job performance. Fourth is referral of clients for further diagnosis, treatment and assistance where appropriate.
The latter three functions are those that often have people seeing ASAP as a "counseling center," which is certainly part of what we do.
In addition, we have three other responsibilities. One is consulting with work organizations about the need for employee access to resources, such as health benefits, particularly in the areas of mental disorders and substance abuse. It also is our job to maintain and create effective relationships with treatment and other service providers. Finally, we have a responsibility to the organization as a whole to identify organizational and individual problems that affect work performance.
One of the most important things to remember about an EAP is that it represents neutral ground. We're not necessarily an advocate for the organization or the client. Our "best practice" is based on our ability to help individuals and groups find solutions that are optimal for both themselves and the organization. It is surprising how often we can achieve this goal.
We are lucky on campus to have a large variety of employee support services. It can become confusing for the person who needs help to select the services that are appropriate for them. Remember, it is part of our job to help identify those services. The bottom line is, if you can't remember all the wonderful services that are available to you, give us a call at (530) 752-2727, and we will help you find your way.
Sally Harvey is director of the Academic and Staff Assistance Program. Her columns appear quarterly. She can be reached at (530) 752-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.