Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 46 no. 3 - 3rd Quarter 2016 

Impressions of the Value of the CEAP®: CEAPs Respond to Important Survey

By Chet Taranowski, Ph.D., CEAP, and Paul Tewksbury, LCSW-C, CEAP


Since 1986, the Employee Assistance Certification Commission (EACC) has been responsible for the development and maintenance of the only recognized credential for advanced practice in employee assistance, the Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP®). The CEAP® assures consumers and employers that they are receiving services from a knowledgeable professional with specific expertise in employee assistance practice (White & Sharar, 2003).

Last year, the EACC began collecting data to assess the viewpoints of current CEAPs about their certification. The survey was the first systematic attempt to solicit input from holders of the credential. The goals of the survey were to both determine satisfaction with the credential and to seek feedback in shaping the future direction of the CEAP®.

Key findings and discussion will be presented later in this article, but it is necessary to first offer some important background on the EACC and the CEAP®.

Since its inception, the CEAP® has grown from a primarily U.S.-based credential to an internationally recognized certification, with versions of the CEAP® exam now available in languages other than English (EAPA, 2015). As of September 2015, there are more than 2,000 CEAPs throughout North America and overseas. International expansion of the CEAP® now includes the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Certification
Currently, individuals seeking to qualify for the CEAP® must verify 1,000 hours of supervised practice as a practitioner of EAP services and pass a comprehensive examination that spans the administrative, clinical, and organizational dimensions of EAP practice.

As noted, the development of the exam and requirements are overseen by the EACC, whose international membership is comprised of 13 appointed leaders in the EAP field. Each commissioner serves a three-year term (the authors of this article are both third-year EACC members).

The EACC is also responsible for adjudicating and enforcing the comprehensive ethical standards for advanced EAP practice (EACC, 2015).

Shortage of CEAPs
In the United States, the vast majority of EAP practitioners serving as EAP affiliates for large vendors lack certification, although this rate varies greatly across organizations. The shortage of CEAPs in EA-focused roles may indicate that many EAP providers do not have the verified qualifications necessary for expert practice. In a study of large providers of EAP services in 2010, only 6% of those employed by EAP vendors held the CEAP® certification (Taranowski & Mathieu, 2013). Sharar (2008) indicated that affiliates may perceive EAP referrals as being no different from other clients receiving psychotherapy.

Survey Methodology & Results
The brief survey consisted of 12 multiple choice and open-ended questions inquiring about select demographic factors, reasons for obtaining and maintaining certification, and solicited suggestions for making the credential more useful. They survey was distributed via e-mail using the Survey Monkey platform in July 2015, and again in August. It was sent to the 2,089 CEAPs listed as active in EAPA records. The survey remained open for three weeks.

Exactly 832 CEAPs completed the survey for a response rate of 27%. Ninety-three percent of the respondents were from the United States. The remainder were from various non-U.S. regions including Asia (1.5%) and Canada (1.4%).

Primary EAP Role
When asked about the primary role in their EAP practice, 38% said it involved counseling and consulting with employees. Twenty-two percent indicated that program management and administration was their main EAP responsibility, while 11% said their key role was serving as a network (affiliate) clinician.

Roughly half of the respondents indicated they provided direct services to employees, while less than one-quarter focused on EA administration. Eleven percent checked the “other” category, which was open-ended with responses such as “in private practice,” “retired,” and “employed in human resources and managed care roles.”

Duration as a CEAP, Mastery of Skills
More than two-thirds of the respondents had been a CEAP for more than 10 years, while almost half of the individuals surveyed reported having held the credential for over 15 years.

The survey also inquired as to whether current CEAPs believed the credential represented a “mastery of unique skills related to EAP practice,” as separate and distinct from the skill sets of other mental health providers. Two-thirds of the respondents indicated strong agreement with this item, while the remaining third surveyed only slightly agreed that the CEAP®, in fact, represented a mastery of distinct skills.

Motivator in Obtaining the CEAP
A majority of those surveyed (over 60%) indicated that “demonstrating EAP expertise” was the strongest motivator in obtaining the CEAP®. Only 20% indicated that increased earning potential was their primary motivation. Nearly 50% of respondents said the CEAP® was required by their employer.

Other initial motivators for earning the CEAP® included a desire to become a substance abuse professional (SAP), to be seen as a leader in the EAP field, and to gain international recognition as an EAP provider.

Advantages in Maintaining Certification
The survey sought respondents’ opinions about the advantages of maintaining their certification. One-half believed that the main benefit was to identify themselves as an expert in the EAP field. Less than 15% indicated that the CEAP® had enhanced their income opportunities.

When asked about renewals, 93% of respondents stated that they were planning on maintaining their certification in 2016. Of the seven percent not planning to renew, one-quarter were retiring. About one-tenth of those not planning to renew believed the credential was “too expensive.”

Who Pays for the CEAP?
Forty percent of respondents indicated that their employer paid the fees associated with certification. Another 10% said that their employer paid a portion of the fees. A host of organizations supported the cost of the CEAP®. Many employers were mentioned.

How the CEAP Has Been Useful
Almost two-thirds of respondents believed that the CEAP® is helpful in “differentiating” them from other mental health professionals. Over 50% indicated that qualifying for the CEAP® had increased their knowledge of employee assistance. Approximately 20% believed the CEAP® was useful in additional ways: finding new EAP employment, increasing referrals to their practice, and gaining new accounts. Only a small number of respondents (13%) believed that the CEAP® had not helped them significantly.

How Could the CEAP Be More Valuable?
When asked how the CEAP®could be more valuable, 14% of those surveyed suggested that requiring the CEAP® for EA practice would enhance its value. Another 12% thought that better marketing of the CEAP® credential by EAPA and the EACC would enhance the certification’s profile.

Eleven percent believed that more training opportunities should be offered for the CEAP®. Just over 10% of respondents suggested the CEAP® was “good as-is.”

Five percent believed that the future of the CEAP® and the EA profession itself were facing significant obstacles due to the viability of employee assistance as a specialized field of knowledge. Consequently, they suggested that improvement of the credential was not possible.

Comments listed under the “other” option included a variety of opinions each offered by less than 1% of respondents and included observations such as greater labor emphasis and changes to the CEAP® exam.

Discussion
The CEAP® is the only international credential that certifies the holder’s advanced knowledge of EAP practice. Individuals holding the CEAP® have been leaders in the field of employee assistance for 30 years. Forty-seven percent of respondents had the longest tenure of certification (more than 16 years). The high response rate by more experienced CEAPs may reflect a general aging of the EA population, as well as a greater investment in issues surrounding the credential and subsequently an increased interest in responding to a survey. EACC records indicate a decrease in the number of new CEAPs over the last several years. Other key discussion points are as follows:

* When asked about renewal, 93% of those certified stated that they will be renewing, but of those not choosing to renew, a sizable portion were planning on retiring or had already left the profession. These numbers illustrate that if the credential is to maintain its relevance, more young EA professionals need to be engaged in seeking the CEAP®. Without a new generation of leaders, the integrity of the EAP-related body of knowledge may be compromised or even lost. 

* Respondents to this survey were mainly involved in clinical work as opposed to administrative duties. This suggests a mismatch between the CEAP® exam content and practical relevance, as the test is designed to balance the clinical, administrative, and organizational domains of EA practice.

* Overall, data indicates that CEAPs place a higher value on intangibles related to professional distinction rather than on the potential financial incentives of holding the credential. Although some CEAPs have indicated a monetary advantage from holding the credential, the knowledge and prestige factors appear to be the strongest motivators of initially earning and maintaining certification. The greater call for marketing of the credential may be related to the perception that more visibility could lead to higher incomes and more job opportunities for CEAPs.

* Survey results also reveal that many CEAPs see the need for changes to the credential but lack a unified opinion as to what adjustments might be the most relevant. Many respondents called for EAPA and the EACC to more aggressively market the credential and even to engage in advocacy as to limit the practice of employee assistance to those holding the CEAP®. Many CEAPs called for more educational opportunities as a way to improve certification, consistent with knowledge-seeking as one of the primary motivators in their initial pursuit of the credential.

* The data shows that many EAP organizations believe in the value of the credential, as half of employers contributed funds for CEAPs to keep it active. It is not known if the financial support for the credential is specific to the CEAP®, or is a standard allotment for any relevant practice credential. Nevertheless, the wide range of organizations reported as providing funds for the CEAP® indicate that many EA professionals receive financial support for this certification.

Next Steps
Continuing to educate work organizations and employers of EA practitioners on the value of EA services and the CEAP® seems to be a logical step to enhance the future of the credential. Failure to support certification and the requirements it represents may have an adverse effect on the integrity of the EAP field. This is a vital point since the CEAP® represents the only ethically-informed and knowledge-based standard for EAP practice across the globe.

Limitations and Future Directions
The EACC survey was administered electronically to the entire population of current CEAPs, but was not able to verify if a representative cross-section of CEAPs responded. The opinions solicited did not include former CEAPs nor EA professionals practicing without the credential.

Future inquiries will request more detailed information regarding the actual professional practice of CEAPs and their perceptions of knowledge relevant to EAP practice. The next versions of the survey will also inquire about income levels and perceptions of the EA field, beyond issues related to the credential itself.

Chester Taranowski, Ph.D., CEAP, is an instructor and field work liaison with the University of Southern California School of Social Work. Paul Tewksbury, LCSW-C, CEAP, is an employee assistance counselor with the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Employee Assistance. Chet and Paul are both members of the Employee Assistance Certification Commission. 

References
Employee Assistance Certification Commission (2015) CEAP Certification. Retrieved 11/12/2015 http://www.eapassn.org/CEAPinfo#intro.

Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA; 2015).  Interview with EAPA CEO John Maynard, PhD, on international versions and availability of the CEAP-I exam.

Sharar (2008) Do Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Affiliate Providers Adhere to EAP Concepts? An Examination of Affiliate Fidelity to EAP Theory and Practice. University of Illinois Dissertation.

Taranowski, C. & Mahieu, K. (2013). Trends in Employee Assistance Program Implementation, Structure, and Utilization, 2009 to 2010. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. Pages 172-191.

White, W., & Sharar, D. (2003). The Evolution of Employee Assistance: A Brief History and Trend Analysis... EAP Digest.