Behavioral Health, Teletherapy, and EAP: What’s the Difference?

by | Jun 10, 2020 | Benefits

Mental health was at the top of many employers’ minds before the pandemic, and we’re only beginning to see how COVID-19 will impact employees.

An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out that population-wide spikes in depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse followed previous pandemics and natural disasters: “In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence; and with schools closed, there is a very real possibility of an epidemic of child abuse.”

And, of course, we haven’t taken into account the potential impact of civil unrest, police violence, and whatever else 2020 will bring. Taken together, mental health concerns are a future threat employers can’t ignore. The three most common mental health benefits, Behavioral Health, Teletherapy, and EAP, can be difficult to keep straight. In this post, we’ll explain the difference between these mental health resources for employees.

What are Behavioral Health Programs?

Behavioral health programs offer employees therapeutic resources to help them develop healthy behaviors. That might include therapy, as well as support for healthy eating, movement, and meditation.

It’s easy to confuse mental health programs with “behavioral health programs. Behavioral health includes mental health but isn’t limited to it. In fact, the addition of mental health to the field of behavioral health is fairly recent. In the past, this field focused on changing the behaviors that led to disease. For instance, a behavioral health program might help someone develop a diet and exercise plan that lowered their risk for heart disease.

Now, behavioral health practitioners treat conditions that impact both your physical and mental health. This is how workplace behavioral health programs show up; they help employees deal with substance abuse, addiction, gambling, and other problems that affect work performance. Behavioral health services can also help those struggling with mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression, by addressing the behaviors that make their symptoms worse and developing behaviors that help them feel better.

Hallmarks of a workplace behavioral health program can include everything from teletherapy and weight loss challenges to mindfulness-based meditation. Of course, a behavioral health program could overlap with other employee resources for mental health. Employers may also choose to use an EAP program to deal with behavioral health issues that cause absenteeism and dips in productivity.

To recap, Behavioral Health Programs:

  • Help employees develop healthy behaviors to address physical and mental health issues
  • In the workplace, often focuses on mental health resources, including therapy
  • Can include mental health, but aren’t limited to it
healthjoy employee wellness challenge
Images shared by HealthJoy employees during our May Wellness Challenge. Employees completed workout videos, called old friends, made healthy meals, read for pleasure, learned new skills, and more. 

What is teletherapy?

Teletherapy is often offered as part of a behavioral health program. While virtual EAP counseling could be considered a type of teletherapy, they’re usually offered as distinct employee benefits.

Broadly, teletherapy is simply an online, video-based version of talk therapy. In talk therapy, therapists may rely on a variety of tools, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. In CBT, therapists use different strategies to change thinking patterns. The focus of CBT is on building healthy habits and changing behaviors; this is one reason it’s a good fit with many behavioral health plans. Talk therapy focuses on building a relationship with a therapist over the long term, and can help with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health concerns. The short-term counseling offered in an EAP, in contrast, may help patients cope with a recent loss, a marital problem, or other acute stress.

Like telemedicine, teletherapy isn’t new, but it is growing in popularity and acceptance in the medical community. Studies show varying teletherapy models can effectively treat depression, substance use, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other conditions. It also has undeniable benefits in terms of convenience and, in the midst of the pandemic, safety. In fact, during the coronavirus lockdown, many providers turned to teletherapy models to continue treatment. It’s possible that this broader adoption of teletherapy will change the way therapists treat patients even after the country returns to normal.

To recap, teletherapy:

  • Is talk therapy offered over video or phone
  • Is often offered as part of a workplace behavioral health program
  • Allows employees to develop a long-term relationship with a single therapist
  • Is a proven treatment for both behavioral health and mental health conditions
  • Usually costs employees a flat fee but can be subsidized

Here’s how it works with HealthJoy:

HealthJoy members can access teletherapy straight from the menu for companies that have elected to provide that offering. They can choose a provider, date, time, and the meeting type (either phone or video) that works best for them. These sessions cost employees a flat fee, which is generally less than the cost of seeing a therapist in person. Appointment scheduling is available 24/7 through the HealthJoy app, and appointments can be made for as soon as 24 hours.

What are Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s)?

Employee Assistance Programs evolved to address the problems most likely to impact employee performance. If it distresses and distracts employees, there’s probably an EAP resource to address it. The other main difference between EAP and behavioral health programs, including teletherapy, is the scope of what they cover.

Behavioral health programs tend to focus on the individual and address mental, emotional, and physical sources of stress to create healthier behaviors. A typical EAP offering usually focuses on outside stressors, like financial problems, elder care, or legal concerns. Usually, EAP’s counseling sessions are available for a limited number of visits at no cost to employees.

Employee Assistance Programs typically include some combination of the following mental health resources for employees:

  • Short-term counseling – typically, anywhere from 3-10 sessions with a counselor to help employees address acute issues. The counselor may also use this time to direct employees to additional resources, like substance abuse support groups
  • Financial counseling – resources to help employees manage their budgets, address debt, and more
  • Legal services – free legal counsel for divorce, bankruptcy, and more
  • Adoption assistance – free legal and financial support for employees who want to pursue adoption
  • Child and elder care services – resources and support for caregivers
  • Substance abuse referral services – short-term counseling and group support resources specifically for employees struggling with substance abuse
  • Workplace trauma counseling – support for employees struggling with trauma after incidents of workplace violence

To recap, EAP:

  • Connects employees with resources that help them deal with stress
  • Includes short-term counseling, as well as other services like legal and financial support
  • Can help employees connect with long-term counseling resources like teletherapy
  • Is usually free for employees

How it works with HealthJoy:

Just like teletherapy, HealthJoy members access their EAP from the app. With a few taps, they can connect immediately with an EAP counselor by phone. From there, the counselor will direct members to the services they need. That might include short-term counseling or a combination of some of the other resources listed above. Members don’t need to wait to set up an appointment, and counselors are available 24/7. Like teletherapy, EAP counseling sessions are completely confidential. We can work with an employer’s existing EAP provider or clients can elect to provide HealthJoy EAP.

EAP Guide

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a fixture of almost every employer-provided healthcare program, yet it’s largely ignored. Learn why an EAP benefit is so essential and how to help employees make the most of it in this guide.

Learn more »

Explaining your mental health resources for employees

If you need to brush up on the difference between these mental health resources for employees, chances are they do too. Now more than ever, employees need all the help they can get. Take this opportunity to remind them how their benefits can help, and don’t forget to explain the difference between any overlapping benefits like behavioral health, teletherapy, and EAP. Enumerating small differences like price, duration of counseling, and how to access each resource can go a long way toward breaking down barriers to mental health support.

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