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Know Your Audience: Applying Best Practice for EAP Utilization

18 Oct. 2017 Posted by aadams

Randall Kratz, FEI Senior Account Manager

As a part of my employee assistance program (EAP) account management and consultant duties over the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to add first responder organizations—primarily law enforcement—to my management list.

Over time, I’ve assisted in providing critical incident response for various officer-involved situations. Through the many opportunities to provide psychological first aid, officers have taught me much about how best to help them. The EAP relationship with law enforcement needs to be an active partnership and not just an employee benefit with a telephone number.

This active partnership includes the following: Trust, both individually and organizationally; access to competent counseling services that understand the law enforcement culture; commitment to privacy and confidentiality; an understanding that law enforcement is a special population; knowledge and respect for the cumulative effects of traumatic stress; and lastly, a close working connection to an informal/formal internal peer support program.

Trust and Credibility

Without trust and credibility, utilization of the program will suffer. The workforce needs to know and feel accepted by the people who work with them during high-stress moments of organizational and personal vulnerability.

Law enforcement specifically expects competency with traumatic stress interventions. Due to the 24/7 nature of the work, a commitment to being available whenever the need arises is crucial. Building a trustworthy partnership also requires on-site outreach during times of low stress that includes EAP benefit education, seeing the work firsthand and getting to know the people behind the badge.

It is vital that access to services be clear, concise and consistent. It’s difficult enough to ask for EAP-related help, let alone having obstacles, misunderstandings or other types of confusion getting in the way. The process of getting EAP assistance should be defined clearly and callers should be told what to expect. Contact with the EAP must provide a safe place to talk about
the things that can be difficult to express, and with counselors who understand law
enforcement culture.

Nobody will use the program if they believe it isn’t private and confidential. There needs to be a consistent message covering how and what utilization is reported, and to whom the information goes. The role of human resources within the context of the EAP should be discussed and communicated clearly to law enforcement employees.

The Science of Resilience

To have an effective EAP partnership, awareness of the law enforcement mindset is invaluable. This workforce responds very positively to brain science concepts because of their non-threatening relevancy to police work. Providing educational information about the brain’s response to life and death decisions necessary to the job helps deliver the resiliency message required to bounce back.

Normalizing and managing the effects of traumatic stress on law enforcement is also essential in providing an effective EAP, including an understanding that psychological first aid is as important for resiliency as any other form of assistance, whether it be medical, wellness-oriented or work-related. Both an officer and his or her family members can be affected by traumatic stress, vicarious stress and/or secondary stress. Caring about someone who is repeatedly in harm’s way can have a significant impact, too.

Peer Support

No law enforcement EAP can be fully effective without the utilization of a trained peer support team. Peer support members are typically hand-picked individuals who are trustworthy and have effective people skills. A diverse peer support team offers another doorway for law enforcement workforces to access help in a private and confidential way, and from someone who understands the work. These continuously trained officers provide credibility and connection to the program.

The elements I’ve described that make up an effective law enforcement EAP are quite simply the core competencies of any high-touch EAP. Supporting high-stress environments like those of law enforcement has reminded me of why EAPs were created in the first place: To ensure employees are healthy and resilient so they can do the job, and do it to the best of their ability.

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