MSW: The Degree of Choice for Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Counselors
March 10, 2021
In the mid-1980s, a federal disability regulation known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 led to an emerging field: Social Work in the Workplace.
This employee-centered practice area was created to assist individuals who were struggling with substance abuse. Because of the Rehab Act, addiction in the workplace became classified with the same protections as any other disability. As such, employers were required to start supporting workers with alcoholism or addiction.
The major benefit of this new legislation was that substance abuse stopped being seen as a personal failing. Legally, addiction had to be treated as disease, and thus required resources and understanding in the workplace. This posed challenges to employers, however, who had to demonstrate that they had reasonably tried to assist workers with substance abuse struggles. Thus, the field of Employee Assistance Programs was born.
Decades later, EAPs are no longer singularly focused on alcohol or drug abuse. They have evolved from their original mission, and have become an essential arm of human resources in over 90% of Fortune 500 companies. EAPs now operate as well established worksite-based programs, and help employers address their employee’s productivity and personal problems in areas such as legal, education, mental health, stress, medical, aging, marital issues, divorce, family, children and any other life issues that may impact their personal lives or job performance. EAP counselors can also provide guidance through a crisis.
EAPs utilize a variety of practitioners such as psychologists and substance abuse counselors in the work that they do. That said, the overwhelming majority of practitioners in the EAP field are Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree holders who have earned their licenses to practice in their home state.
MSWs dominate EAP work because of their wide scope of practice, and their ability to smoothly interface between the needs of both the employee and employer. MSW training allows social workers to wear many hats, moving easily between micro (treating the individual), macro (working at an organizational or policy level) and mezzo (working both the micro and macro level) social work. All three areas come into play for EAP professionals.
How To Become an EAP Counselor
Aspiring MSWs who are interested in EAP work should consider pursuing a clinical track in a social work school that is a CSWE accredited institution. It may be helpful to choose a clinical mental health focus, which involves developing skills in counseling and in clinical services through coursework and fieldwork experiences. Becoming skilled at assessment, evaluation, and referral is also helpful.
To work as an EAP professional counselor, one must become licensed to practice by passing clinical social work licensure exams in one’s state of residence or employment. The National Association of Social work (NASW) advises that professional MSW counselors should complete a minimum of two years – or roughly 3000 hours - of post-graduate supervised clinical social work. Depending on the state, this may be a requirement of licensure as a clinician.
Additional credentialing as a post-grad can be helpful as well, and may even be necessary for certain jobs. You may want to earn specific credentialing from the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association, Click here to learn more.
One final reason to consider becoming an EAP professional?
EAP MSWs are among the highest paid in the profession. The median annual EAP Counselor salary is $69,822.