To Teach Is to Learn
By Daniel Hughes, PhD, CEAP; Myrla Parrish, LCSW; and Derrick Williams, LCSW
Most EA professionals would agree that EA practice includes a wide range of educational activities. Clearly, many of our solution-focused interventions are psycho-educational in nature. The CEAPR is based on the principles of mentoring, experiential learning, and apprenticeship (EAPA, 1996). In fact, within the context of supervisory training, teaching is an important part of EAP core technology (Roman & Blum 1985, 1988).
However, relatively few practitioners are engaged in the formal education of graduate students in EA practice (Hughes, 2011; Hughes & Cragwell, 2014). This article explores some of the issues involved in the EA profession’s current stance toward education in the field. We will discuss why and how EA professionals could, and should, increase their investment in educating students.
Surveys and conversations with professional colleagues reveal several reasons why EA providers tend to avoid EA educational activities. These include:
* concerns regarding students’ capabilities;
* liability; and
* competing priorities.
Clearly, student education is situated beyond the business model of most external vendors that rely on call centers and affiliate networks. Simply put, student education is costly, time consuming, and risky. However, there are three good reasons to promote teaching: succession planning, staff development and training, and program enrichment. Each is described in the following sections.
Perhaps the best reason to teach is that it helps prepare the next generation of EA professionals. Like other professions, EA needs to attract young practitioners to the field. Professional credibility requires established structures to develop and share knowledge.
To a large extent, the future of the field will depend on its ability to create professional pathways, especially toward entry-level employment. Shifting demographics and the imminent retirement of Baby Boomers will create a shortage of skilled practitioners, and offering field internships to graduate students is one practical solution.
Moreover, EA practice is interdisciplinary and is not encompassed fully within individual graduate programs such as social work, psychology, human resources, or business. Accordingly, field practicums have the capacity to integrate interdisciplinary perspectives. Lastly, teaching gives practitioners and programs an opportunity to identify and recruit talent. At the Mount Sinai EAP, we have been fortunate to hire many of our former students, who have made significant contributions to the program while assisting our employees.
Staff Development and Training
Teaching benefits both the student and the teacher. It has been said that to teach something is to learn it twice. “Being a teacher offers a second opportunity to improve on our initial education” (Loop, 2009:46). The challenge of sharing one’s professional expertise is self-sustaining. The exercise of reflecting on what we do and communicating those experiences to someone else builds both cognitive and interpersonal skills.
These skills enhance our ability to communicate and solve problems, both of which are central features of EA practice (Hughes, 2007). In other words, to teach is to learn. It helps us become mentors, coaches, consultants, and more effective EA professionals. Historically, formalized instruction has been a prerequisite for the establishment of professional credibility (Freidson, 1986). Accordingly, supervised field instruction supports the professional nature of EA practice and can also promote licensure eligibility.
Teaching adds depth to what we do. For many, EA practice can be an isolating experience. Clearly, this is the case for affiliate panel members practicing with little contact with other EA professionals. This is also true for call center personnel who are distanced from clients and peers since they communicate remotely. Similarly, both internal practitioners and external account managers are frequently isolated as they provide service to their organizational clients.
It is significant then, that today’s teaching methods can include cutting edge “distance learning” technology as well as traditional in-person methods. Either way, programs and practitioners are connected and enhanced through the exchange of knowledge, information, and experience. With webinars, conference presentations, and professional publications, practitioners involved with teaching grow and develop as they acquire and share accumulated skill and expertise.
A Case Example
Since the late 1970s, the Mount Sinai EAP has offered graduate internships to social work students. Primarily, this has involved masters’ level students but has also included several PhD students pursuing advanced scholarship. These activities have strengthened our relationship with the academic culture of the organization we serve.
Cumulatively, our EAP staff has mentored over 75 students. Recently, the educational program has received external funding and expanded to include organizational assessment, in-service training, an ongoing focus group, and the development of innovative teaching strategies such as practice-based, skill- focused educational simulations.
Moreover, we have increased the number of available field internships to three per academic year. Our senior counselor serves as our educational coordinator. In this critical role she screens and assigns student cases, manages office schedules, develops student group educational activities, attends administrative meetings, and provides student supervision.
All of our counselors are involved with student educational activities. More importantly, most were trained as students in our program. It is important to note that field education is equally relevant for other aspiring professional student groups engaged in EA practice. This includes:
* licensed mental health counselors;
* licensed marital and family therapists;
* human resources;
* labor relations;
* coaches; and
* peer counselors.
To illustrate the rich nature of the Mount Sinai Educational Program we have included comments from two of our participants.
A Practitioner/Educator’s Perspective
“See one, do one, teach one” is an adage often used in the training of medical students. I enjoy working with MSW students and introducing them employee assistance programs. Each September, I am able to see the work that we do through fresh eyes. New ideas come from students who are blending theory from their classroom with the laboratory of the workplace. It’s an opportunity to reassess why we do what we do and ask what the most effective approach is. For instance, what is the purpose of our interventions?
Having student colleagues also allows me to feel a sense of mastery, to reflect on how much I have learned and to measure my own professional growth. Teaching can also be a humbling experience. There is no road map and each student is different — self-doubt can set in…“Am I doing this right?” “Is the student getting what they need?”... “Is the student able to represent the EAP in a professional manner?”...
Students also contribute to our referral resources and can perform some of the baseline work that allows various projects to be completed. Our EAP’s child care resource guide is one example.
A Former Student’s Perspective
One former pupil stated: “Few graduate school placements offer a richer clinical environment than an EAP placement,” states one former pupil. “Students in EAP placements routinely navigate both straight forward, and more complex employee scenarios. EAP students receive exposure to a wide range of presentations, and are able to utilize various treatment modalities in a supervised setting.”
The pupil added: “The EAP student has the capacity to be an important part of an EAP team, assisting their placement’s organization in maintaining and enhancing workforce effectiveness.” This student went on to say that after his EA internship, “I was certain that paid Employee Assistance Program work was a career goal for me post-graduation.”
The establishment of student education programs holds great potential for both the EA profession and the next generation of EA practitioners. However, it is a labor intensive activity that is not well suited for all EAPs. Such programs should be tailored thoughtfully to the business model of their host programs. Interested programs and practitioners should consult with EA educators currently offering field internship opportunities for advice.
The benefits of teaching EA practice within the context of existing EAPs include entry-level recruitment, succession planning, program expansion, professional enhancement, and staff training and development. It offers the EA field an opportunity to reflect upon what we do and transfer that knowledge to aspiring practitioners. If we have piqued your curiosity, you can reach out to a local graduate program and explore the possibility of establishing an educational partnership.
Daniel Hughes is the Director of The Mount Sinai Medical Center’s EAP and an Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine. Dan is a long-time EAPA member who lives and practices in New York City. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Myrla Parrish, LCSW, is the Senior Counselor/Education Coordinator of the Mount Sinai Health System EAP. She also serves as a Board Member for the NASW-NYC chapter, and teaches LMSW test prep courses.
Derrick Williams, M.Div, LCSW, is an EAP Counselor and a Preventable Admissions Social Worker within the Mount Sinai Health System.
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Hughes, D. & Cragwell, O. (2014). Training the next generation: Another look. Journal of Employee Assistance, 44(4), 22-25.
Loop, F. D. (2009). Leadership and Medicine. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.
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