Cover Story - JEA 4th Quarter 2019

Adding Life Coaching to the EAP

By Debbie Jongkind, RD, LDN, PCC, NBC-HWC

Over the past thirty years, life coaching has developed into a respected profession, but only recently has the life coach partnered with the EA professional. Historically, working with a personal life coach was limited to top-level executives or those who could afford to privately hire a coach. Adding coaching to the array of services offered by the EAP introduced the wider employee population to the support and benefits provided by a coach.  

As an example, our delivery of life coaching at Workplace Options began when corporate clients started specifically requesting a life coaching component as part of their EAP. In the early days the requests were sporadic, and support was delivered by a licensed clinician on staff.

Seeing a growing demand and looking to serve our customers in additional ways (and increase EAP utilization), we developed a formal coaching program, which allowed us to expand our services to support more employees. Since that time, life coaching has been provided by professional coaches, rather than counselors, and has become part of our holistic well-being approach.

Defining Life Coaching
Coaches and counselors are similar in that they both provide one-on-one support to people seeking change in their lives. They differ in the type of support they offer and the needs of the people they serve.

In counseling, certified clinicians highly trained in psychotherapy use their skills to treat individuals who are struggling emotionally. Their goal is to help people feel and function better. 

While counselors are primarily focused on emotional health, coaches partner with individuals who are interested in reaching their maximum potential. A coach’s sole objective is to help clients identify and employ their own strengths and resources to achieve their personal and professional goals. There is overlap between the two professions, as counselors are also qualified to offer support with goals. Coaches, however, are not qualified to assess a client’s mental health or provide treatment.   

During sessions, coaches rely heavily on methods that draw upon an individual’s intrinsic motivation to change. As a result, coaching sessions are very client-driven, meaning the client is considered the expert on themselves, while the coach acts as a guide. While counselors may also have a person-centered approach to service delivery, the counselors are the experts and take the lead in planning treatment and case management.

A Flexible Delivery Model
At Workplace Options, we mostly deliver life coaching telephonically, with coaches sometimes using email or text messaging to share resources or offer post-session support. Our program typically follows a six-session model, but the actual number of sessions available to employees is determined by their employer as part of the EAP contract.

Follow-up sessions are scheduled at intervals that best support the client and can be held weekly, biweekly, or monthly. This differs from counseling, in which sessions are typically scheduled weekly. Flexibility in follow-up sessions for coaching gives clients time to implement action steps discussed during previous sessions.

Life Coaching Example
Yvonne* called Workplace Options to take advantage of her EAP benefit and connect with a life coach. During the first session, the coach learned that Yvonne had a very busy professional and personal life and was motivated to improve her time management skills. Yvonne articulated that she wanted to develop a plan that would help her accomplish her tasks at work and allow time for her outside responsibilities and leisure activities.

She said she felt like she was always trying to play catch-up with her work projects as well as her personal ones. Instead, she wanted to see herself as competent, relaxed, and ahead of the curve. Yvonne decided that she would evaluate how she spent her time over the next few weeks and bring those observations to her follow-up session. 

During the second session, Yvonne relayed her observations to the coach and discussed how she seemed to be more productive in the morning. Working with the coach, she brainstormed ways to rearrange her schedule to accomplish some of her more important tasks in the morning. She began experimenting with this schedule change in the weeks that followed. 
Knowing she would be talking with her coach kept Yvonne motivated to implement change. Subsequent follow-up sessions gave her a chance to discuss new ideas for improving her daily schedule and time to examine the obstacles that seemed to derail her best made plans. 

Yvonne had her sixth and final session with the coach about three months after she had started the program. She shared that she felt better about how she was spending her time; she felt more productive at work and had even started going back to the gym two nights per week, which gave her increased energy.

She was also setting aside about 30 minutes each evening to reassess her day and organize her priorities. Yvonne had designed a system that was working for her during this busy phase of her life and was feeling more competent and relaxed.  

I reached out to our Vice President of Clinical Crisis and Specialty Services, Kennette Thigpen, PhD, MSW, LCSW-S, for perspective on how a counselor may have handled the situation differently. Dr. Thigpen explained that a counselor might have assessed if there were cognitive distortions impacting Yvonne’s feelings of wanting to feel competent, relaxed, and ahead of the curve or probe to understand if there were other risk factors or past traumas that could be playing a role.

Like the coach, the counselor could have also provided support with managing schedules, ensuring to practice self-care, and setting boundaries to balance her personal and professional life. However, the counselor may have taken a more direct approach, where a coach is trained to rely on the client’s own self-discovery process.

Offering a life coaching component as part of the EAP benefit gives employees like Yvonne the opportunity to select which approach best supports a given situation. Employees who are looking for guidance with life changes but do not need or want counseling, can still be served by their EAP when life coaching is available. 

Value Within EAP
In this respect, life coaching may provide a lower barrier to entry for EAP support, allowing the EAP to serve a greater percentage of employees. This could, in turn, serve as a bridge for employees to access other services provided by their EAP. For example, when a coach recognizes a client needs clinical support, the coach can facilitate the transition to a counselor.
Providing life coaching also benefits EAPs by allowing counselors to operate at the top of their skill set. Utilizing coaches to help individuals work on reaching their personal and professional goals frees up clinicians to use their specialized skills and training to assist individuals who are struggling emotionally or are in a crisis. 

The Importance of Training
Ensuring coaches are trained at the highest level was a critical factor for Workplace Options in integrating life coaching into its EAP services. While there are currently no licensing requirements for life coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF) has set industry standards for the coaching profession.

Not only did we commit to having employees trained to ICF standards, we developed our own comprehensive coach training program that is approved by both the ICF and the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). The curriculum includes an emphasis on vision-setting, goal-setting, relapse prevention, empathy, improving self-efficacy, building support, and the power of reflection. This differs from the training and continuing education that counselors are required to complete to maintain licensure, which includes human development, family systems, ethics, and counseling strategies.

As part of the ethics and standards of the coaching profession, coaches are trained to remain focused on their area of expertise and notice when a client may need additional support beyond their scope, such as counseling. Because of the integrated nature of an EAP, referral to clinical support is immediate and an easy transition for the client.

How Coaching, Counseling Work Together
As an example, Janet* called her EAP and requested to engage in life coaching. During the initial telephonic coaching session, Janet described herself as disorganized, talked about a desire for career change and possibly starting her own business. She also mentioned that since she was recently divorced, and in a new relationship, she was experiencing anxiety in determining how she should consider these factors in her decision-making process. 

Although Janet was emotionally stable and did not exhibit any risk of harm, she did bring up her relationship concerns numerous times. This prompted the coach to share with Janet that she also had a counseling benefit, which could assist her with the emotions of her recent divorce and new relationship concerns. With Janet’s permission, the coach had a counselor join in on the call.  

Life coaching was put on hold so Janet could fully engage in her counseling sessions, with the understanding she could return to coaching later if she was still interested in the service.  
In the event a coach finds a client to be in crisis, coaches are trained to follow a crisis protocol where a counselor joins the call immediately for in-the-moment support. 

For Workplace Options, life coaching has been a positive addition and a natural fit. In addition to expanding the resources we offer, it is also attracting participants who might not otherwise utilize their EAP. Most importantly, it is helping many individuals tap into their full potential.
*These case studies are based on actual situations, but the names and other details have been changed or omitted to protect the anonymity of the individual receiving support.

Debbie Jongkind, RD, LDN, PCC, NBC-HWC, is Workplace Options’ Vice President of Global Coaching Services. Jongkind is a professional certified coach, a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness coach and a registered, licensed dietitian. Jongkind helped develop Workplace Options’ Live Well Wellness Global Coach Training Program, which has been recognized by both the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). The author may be reached at