At one time, employee assistance programs were considered punishment, and mental health therapy equated to long hours spent analyzing childhood memories while lying on Freud's couch. In today's transparent and wellness friendly world, however, employers are getting better at shedding the stigmas associated with seeking mental health resources. Now more than ever, EAP providers offer convenient service delivery options to get plan participants the help they need. Managers, meanwhile, also benefit from EAPs through access to expert advice to help develop employee policies, diffuse real-time problems and keep the workplace safe.

"In the older days, the EAP was sometimes looked at punitively; people were sent to the EAP if the employee did something wrong. So effective programs [now] promote the employee assistance program as exactly that: Something the employee uses as their own tool to help improve the quality of their life," says Dr. Joseph Hullett, MD, the national medical director for Optum's behavioral health business in the employer market. "The focus should be on wellness, not just illness. ... and on the notion that you don't have to be sick to get better."

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