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.


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