The World of EAP

Trinidad and Tobago: A Small Country that’s Big on EAP

By John Maynard, PhD, CEAP


One of the great privileges of my twelve years as EAPA CEO was the opportunity to meet and get to know EA professionals in countries around the world. I hope to use this column to highlight some of the exciting developments, as well as the challenges, that continue to unfold as the field evolves in diverse cultures and economies. We’ll look at the commonalities and explore some of the key differences that characterize EAPs in different countries and regions. Thanks for coming with me on this journey.  
We begin in one of the world’s smaller countries, but one with the 3rd highest number of CEAPs and the 4th highest number of EAPA members outside the USA – Trinidad and Tobago. T&T is a tropical island country with a population of just 1.25 million, located only a few kilometers off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. Known for its annual Carnival, T&T is the birthplace of calypso, limbo, and steelpan music. At the same time, due largely to its huge oil and gas reserves, it’s the third richest economy per capita in the Americas, after the USA and Canada.

Warm, Dedicated, & Visible
The first EAPs in T&T (both internal and external) were introduced in the early 1990s, and the T&T EAPA branch was established in the early 2000s. I had the opportunity to visit T&T to speak to the branch and spend time with members in 2013. I found a warm, welcoming, and dedicated group of EA professionals committed to staying abreast of EA best practices around the world while tailoring them to the local culture.
The EAP community in T&T is highly visible, as virtually all of the country’s larger organizations have EAPs. Most EAP work is done by the six external EA firms based in Trinidad. Until recently, these firms operated primarily with a staff model, but as is the case in so many other countries, they are gradually shifting to an affiliate model of providing services.

New EAP Rules for Government Employees
Also as in many other countries, the field has benefited from support for EAPs from the government sector. Until recently, the government required all ministries to contract for EAP services with one of the external EAP firms in the country.
However, a new government, which took office in September 2015, has changed the rules. Under the new government, ministries are allowed to set up multiple “fee-for-service” EAP arrangements with several EAP firms. Government employees can then choose to see a provider from any of the EAPs, as long as they stay within the overall budget.

Challenges & Opportunities
One key challenge that EAPA branch members face is the widespread perception in the T&T business community that EAPs are primarily just counseling programs that assure the availability of a counselor for employees when they need it. Employers have only limited appreciation of the availability or value of management consultation and other employer services offered by EAPs. In part for this reason, employers tend to prefer paying for EAP on a fee-for-service basis instead of a retainer or per-eligible employee basis.
That said, EAP critical incident response work is highly visible in Trinidad and Tobago, as it is in other countries. Because of its strategic location in relation to South and North America, T&T has long been on distribution routes for the drug trade. This has led to an elevated crime rate and an accompanying increase in incidents affecting the workplace.
More recently, the T&T economy has struggled because of the sustained worldwide decline in oil prices. One resulting trend is an increase in EAPs being asked to provide on-site services during layoffs or other particularly stressful times.

Rise in Relationship Issues
Relationship issues are the most common presenting and assessed issues brought to T&T EAPs, followed by work-related and families (parents, children) concerns. This pattern is similar to EAPs in many, if not most, regions of the world.  
As a small country with a strong tradition of social interaction, people tend to know each other personally, or at least know about each other, according to EA professionals in T&T. With the advent of social media and nearly universal Internet and cell phone usage, there are even fewer secrets. The last few years have seen a particularly sharp rise in relationship issues created or aggravated by information shared on social media.  
One opportunity generated by this rise in relationship issues is an increased interest in mediation services provided by EAPs. Many EA firms in T&T are now encouraging staff or affiliates to become certified as mediators.

Need to Educate the Market
EA professionals I spoke with all emphasized the importance of continuing to educate the T&T employer community about the full scope and value proposition of EAP, not just as a counseling service, but as a much broader set of services capable of addressing behavioral aspects of many organizational functions, including management, workplace safety, and organizational culture.  
They also stressed the need to educate both the employer and general counseling communities about the need to assure that counseling professionals who profess to offer EAP services understand the EA body of knowledge and have the CEAP® credential to prove it.
I suspect these latter issues are not so different from those found in many other countries and regions of the world. I look forward to continuing to explore these and other aspects of the world of EAP in future columns.

Let’s Continue the Discussion
My thanks to former EACC Chair, Coral Smith-Alleyne, and current EACC Commissioner, Daryl Joseph, both from Trinidad and Tobago, for taking the time to talk with me as I was preparing this column.  Let’s continue the discussion of EAP in Trinidad and Tobago on EAPA’s LinkedIn group – feedback, questions, and suggestions are always welcome!  

Dr. John Maynard served as CEO of EAPA from 2004 through 2015. Prior to that, he was President of SPIRE Health Consultants, Inc., a global consulting firm specializing in EA strategic planning, program design, and quality improvement. In both roles, he had the opportunity to observe, meet, and exchange ideas with EA professionals in countries around the world. He can be reached at johnmaynard@spirehealth.com.