Which works? – Chaplains vs. Counselors in workplace behavioral health

 If you know me well, you know I’m a huge advocate for Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). A well-designed, well-socialized, well managed EAP program can be an amazing tool for employee wellness, management consultations, organizational development, and part of a solid foundation to a high-performance organization.

Without being really deliberate, spirituality isn’t a “standard” part of an EAP or really any psychological or consulting services although many would (and I think, rightfully) argue that addressing spirituality as a regular part of psychological counseling is an important consideration. Many therapists aren’t well-trained in this space and if they are, it’s then often as a specialty and more in line with religion; not so much as a part of their practice, it encompasses their practice. It’s also one of those topics that often pushes buttons for therapists themselves so that adds to the challenge and might get ignored in favor of focus on the other more clinical “presenting problems.”  (Shout out to Dr. Laurie Coleman who wrote a fantastic dissertation about including spirituality in psychological practice).

Chaplains often find a way to approach the whole person in counseling and, like pastoral counsellors or clergy, do have some counseling or psychological training but they’re focus is spirituality. In US military settings, a conversation with a chaplain is protected with the same broad definitions of confidentiality as in the civilian outpatient psychological counseling space. Conversely, a conversation with a military behavioral health officer isn’t protected by as much confidentiality. Generally, the conversations we have with our clergy in most settings are considered to be the most guarded by various privacy protections. Interesting, but not what this post is ultimately about.

This post is about the workplace chaplain role and programs that look a whole lot like EAPs but are sourced by clergy and much more influenced by religion than by business performance or health and wellness. That’s not to say business and employee performance aren’t still important to the workplace chaplain – they are for sure. But the “starting point” and context for engagement is spiritual, not employee health and performance. A lot of us are familiar with the chaplain role in a military setting and with first responders – police and fire – and certainly in a hospital setting. But what about for the workplaces aside from these settings? There are vendor groups out there providing these services in workplaces regardless of industry or setting. (See example: http://www.workplacechaplains.us/)

Anything health-related attached to religion raises concerns in my mind about appropriate training, scope of role, and whether everyone will feel comfortable accessing the services. That said, I admire and have an affinity for the chaplain role especially having worked alongside some wonderful chaplains while with the National Guard. I don’t think I’d pick a workplace chaplain program over an EAP when I’m worried about employee emotional health and impacts on performance. I’m also not as versed in chaplain programming for the workplace as much as EAPs – big caveat to my assumptions here.

So what do you think? Please share your thoughts and especially if you have experience with the two types (EAP and workplace chaplain) that you can share some comparisons. I’d love have more of a conversation about when a workplace chaplain program might be a better fit than an EAP.


The hardest manager conversation (hint: it’s not “letting someone go”)

There was a great article this week on HRDive about training HR and others to spot depression and suicide risk in employees.  The original article is here: How HR can step in to help prevent employee suicide.
It’s a brief, good read and I recommend checking it out.

As I was reading through the description of training ideas to help managers and HR recognize mental health and suicidality risks in their organizations, I started thinking of a presentation I did a couple months ago where I was advocating for EAP involvement in disability leaves. Part of the great discussion we had was around the difficulty and discomfort most of us have for addressing employees about medical and personal issues. Reading the HRDive article, I kept thinking how great it would be for more work forces to be aware of what depression and other mental illnesses look like, how they manifest in the workplace. But once you have that knowledge and know what to look for, how in the heck do you approach anemployee you’re  concerned about to have that conversation?

If you ask any manager about the hardest conversation they’ve ever had with an employee, I’d guess you’d hear a lot about having to let someone go, personal hygiene issues (ah yes, my favorite), etc. I’m sure there are way too many who’ve also had conversations about substance abuse and having to make “mandatory referrals” to the company’s EAP or face termination. I don’t think too many have ever thought to approach an employee about a mental health issue.

Mental illness is a whole new ballgame when it comes to learning how to have “challenging conversations.” Throw in confidentiality concerns, ADA, union-represented employees, stigma (and I’m sure there are other variables to consider)  and even the best leader/communicator would turn pale.

So how can we better support our managers, HR professionals, well-meaning colleagues to have these conversations? How can we help them know what to do when they see the signs? My first call would be to the EAP – this is their space, their specialty. My guess is that any number of great EAPs are starting to get these types of requests for training. EAPs are mental health professionals that have these conversations all the time, have trained years to be able to have them and know what to do. This is a fairly “clinical” space in my estimation so your regular “organizational development” professional training won’t do, I’m afraid.

I’d love to get this discussion going about how to bridge this important skill gap. I think it’s fantastic that we’re trying to talk more openly about mental illness in the workplace and build awareness. But how does the mental health community best partner with HR and organizational leaders to support them finding a way to intervene when they have all that great awareness we’re helping them have?

What is this about & why should you care?

If you’re here, you found the blog on purpose through a link or search engine maybe? Or perhaps you found this by accident and the really snazzy blog title intrigued you (if the dryness of it didn’t totally turn you off). Whoever you are, whatever you do and however you found this – I’m glad you’re here!

You can read about my background on LinkedIn so I won’t belabor that here. This blog isn’t about that, but please do reach out and connect if you like.

This blog is about all the tags you see noted and facilitating conversations and sharing resources among like-minded, interested people: HR professionals, EAP partners, consultants, practitioners, academicians, occupational health and leave management professionals, etc etc. This blog space is for you and I hope you’ll read and participate when you can.

Thank you for reading and your interest in this space.