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Is EAP counselling the same as therapy?

It’s subtle, but the difference is there: here’s how to distinguish EAP counselling from other types of therapy.

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What is EAP counselling?How is EAP counselling different from therapy?What to expect from EAP counsellingIs EAP counselling the same as Spill therapy?

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  • EAP counselling is a short-term, solution-focused service paid for by you, the employer, to help your team manage issues at work or at home.
  • Therapy and other types of counselling tend to be longer-term and more in-depth to help individuals understand root causes of their emotional and behavioural issues.
  • The five main differences between EAP counselling and other types of therapy are the number of sessions, the topics up for discussion, who can access support, confidentiality, and the variety of counselling styles available.
  • Spill gives your employees access to the benefits of counselling and therapy by offering longer-term support with over 50 specialisms in 10 different languages.

With one in six people experiencing mental health problems in the workplace, it’s no wonder that companies are turning to employee assistance programmes (EAPs) to support their team’s mental health. Offering a variety of services, EAPs are perhaps most well-known for their counselling provision. But, what does EAP counselling really mean? And how is it different from therapy? 

👋 A quick heads up before we go any further: we’re using the term ‘EAP counselling’ throughout this article as a catch-all term to refer to the counselling and therapy services provided by EAPs.

So, who better to answer this question than our very own team of highly qualified and experienced therapists here at Spill. Here, we lift the lid on EAP counselling from those in the know: find out the real difference between EAP counselling and therapy, as well as what to expect and its benefits.

What is EAP counselling?

EAP counselling is a short-term, solution-focused service paid for by employers and provided to employees to help them deal with work-related and personal issues.

Before we get into things, a quick look at what EAP counselling is and how it's different from other forms of counselling and therapy.

The counselling provided by an EAP provider is structurally very similar to counselling accessed in other ways, such as through the NHS, universities, local government services, or private practice. They both offer short-term, solution-focused support targeted for those who need it most. But, and here’s the key difference, EAP counselling is paid for by an employer and focuses on helping employees deal with issues in their professional and personal lives that are affecting their ability to perform well at work.

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How is EAP counselling different from therapy?

It’s subtle, but there is a difference between EAP counselling and therapy, and from talking to our team of therapists, we’ve found five main differences between the two:

  1. The number of sessions available
  2. The topics up for discussion
  3. The people who can get support
  4. The confidentiality of sessions
  5. The variety of styles of counselling available 

The number of sessions available

“EAP counselling is offered through an employer,” says Spill’s Clinical Lead, Eva. “As a result, there’s usually a cap on how many sessions the employer can offer to each employee.” Typically, this seems to be six sessions but it can be more, as Spill’s therapist Krissy explains. “Some EAPs I’ve worked with have given the option to extend the number of sessions if there is a clinical need for it,” she says. “To do that, I had to justify it by writing a report.” 

Either way, EAP counselling normally offers a capped number of sessions for your employees, making it a short-term source of support. Therapy on the other hand, tends to offer long-term support that can be open-ended: some therapist/client relationships can continue for years.

👀 Spot the difference

  • EAP counselling: a limited number of sessions (usually six) that must be done in one block.
  • Therapy: open ended, long-term, and flexible (can be paused and restarted).

👉 How Spill therapy works: your company's Spill admin chooses the maximum number of sessions each employee has — the default is two, four, six, or eight sessions and this renews every six months. But, it is possible for a custom amount of therapy sessions to be set: some companies have gone as high as 26 sessions, giving employees access to one session a week. The Spill admin can also choose what to do If someone wants more sessions after their allotted amount: part of the Spill onboarding process includes choosing whether employees can request more sessions at the company's expense of pay for them privately themselves.

The topics up for discussion

The short-term nature of EAP counselling lends itself to be more of a solution-focused service. According to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), this type of therapy promotes positive change rather than dwelling on past problems: individuals will focus positively on what they do well, set goals, and work out how to achieve them. The BACP says that with this type of therapy, just three or four sessions may be beneficial. 

This sentiment is echoed by other therapists on the Spill team, like Krissy. “When working with a client who only has six sessions of counselling booked in, I have to be more focused in my work,” explains Krissy. “It’s often not safe to open up certain matters when working in such a time-limited way.” Phil agrees, saying “When I’m working with someone in the short-term, I offer more solution-based therapy.”

EAP counselling focuses on an individual’s current problems, offering a solution-based approach to help them find practical ways to feel better.

By ‘certain matters’, Krissy is referring to clients who come to her with trauma, complex issues, or comorbidities (when one person has more than one disorder). “In my private therapy practice however, I work open-ended,” she says. “I’ve worked with some clients for five years and with them, there’s no place we’ve not gone because we’ve established our relationship and safety, and there is real depth to our work together.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Eva. “Any problems can technically be discussed in counselling through an EAP,” she says. “But because it's short-term, it's important that individuals are mindful that there may not be enough sessions to fully explore some issues.” 

This last bit is key: some topics, when not properly addressed, can go on to cause further strain to someone’s mental health. It’s for this reason that EAP counselling is generally considered as helping someone fix a problem: that’s where the solution-focused support comes in. Therapy, however, provides a space for self-awareness and improvement: it’s an in-depth opportunity to explore and understand the root causes behind your emotions and behaviours.

Therapy is often considered to be longer-term and more in-depth than EAP counselling, in order to help individuals understand and work through root causes of their emotional and behavioural issues.

👀 Spot the difference

  • EAP counselling: solution-focused coaching and support that helps someone find practical solutions to a current problem in their life.
  • Therapy: in-depth exploration of past experiences to help someone understand the reasons behind their emotions and behaviours. 

👉 How Spill therapy works: Spill is there for your employees to get support whenever they need it, for anything they want to talk about, be it work, home, or something in between. Offering up to 16 sessions, your team can discuss their topics in more depth and in 72% of cases, Spill therapy reliably reduces mental health symptoms.

The people who can get support

If a member of your team is struggling and calls the company’s EAP, their first point of contact will likely be in the form of an assessment. During this conversation, the EAP will find out what’s going on in more detail, and with this information they’ll advise on the best course of action. 

Here’s where it gets interesting.

From this initial assessment, the majority of callers (60%) are signposted to self-help resources like articles, videos, and podcasts about managing mental health. A further 20% are directed to a national charity (at no cost to the EAP), and the final 20% are the people that may need counselling. But, it's up to them to contact the counsellor. On top of this, some EAPs — including BUPA and AXA Health’s EAPs — don’t offer counselling to individuals with an existing complex mental health diagnosis from accessing support. In addition, this can also extend to neurodiverse employees living with autism or ADHD.

Essentially, struggling employees are left to figure things out for themselves. And for the 20% of people that do get offered EAP counselling, it might not be enough. Someone who is offered EAP counselling after their initial assessment will likely have more severe mental health challenges. But, if only a limited number of sessions are available, the employee in question might not be getting the long-term support needed to move forwards.

👀 Spot the difference

  • EAP counselling: anyone in the company can contact the EAP for support, but only 20% of callers are offered counselling. Individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions may also be turned away.
  • Therapy: anyone who wants or needs therapy can access it through the NHS, charities and other organisations, or privately. 

👉 How Spill therapy works: Spill never turns anyone away from accessing therapy, even those with pre-existing conditions or those who are on the milder end of the mental health severity scale.

The confidentiality of sessions

In all this talk of counselling and therapy, it can be easy to forget that your employees only have access to EAP counselling as a result of you, their employer: it’s a service provided to them, by you. And because of this, EAP counselling has different confidentiality barriers.

Essentially, all EAPs are confidential: the details of your team’s (or your own!) interactions with the EAP will never be shared with anyone in the company. But, each EAP will have its own confidentiality measures in place and in turn, may have a confidentiality agreement with your company. It’s really important that anyone using an EAP understands which information is confidential, the circumstances in which confidentiality has to be broken, and what you as the employer can see about their use of the EAP.

👀 Spot the difference

  • EAP counselling: the specific details of EAP counselling sessions are confidential but it's important to understand the confidentiality boundaries as the service is provided by an employer.
  • Therapy: the specific details of therapy sessions are confidential.

❗️️It’s worth noting that in both EAP counselling and therapy there may be situations when confidentiality must be broken. For example, if the counsellor has concerns about their client’s safety to either themselves or those around them, they will need to safeguard the individual or others from harm.

👉 How Spill therapy works: Therapy with Spill is fully secure and all sessions are confidential. Video therapy sessions are end-to-end encrypted and all messages to and from therapists are fully secure: they can only be unlocked and viewed by the user receiving them.

The variety of styles of counselling available 

Within counselling and therapy, there are a variety of different approaches that can help people to navigate their challenges. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on current problems and practical solutions to help you feel better now, while eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) helps the brain process distressing memories from past trauma. 

When an employee receives counselling through an EAP, they’ll only have access to the counsellors and specialties that EAP works with. “The kind of therapy you get through an EAP will vary,” says Eva. “Usually, it tends to include counselling and CBT, but some EAPs may offer EMDR and trauma approaches.” The kind of approaches available will be restricted to what the EAP can offer. 

👀 Spot the difference

  • EAP counselling: the variety of approaches available depends on the counsellors working with the EAP.
  • Therapy: an individual can find a therapist that specialises in a particular approach to help them address a certain issue.

👉 How Spill therapy works: Spill therapists cover 50 different specialisms and can provide therapy in over 10 languages across multiple time zones.

Therapists all have their client’s best interests at heart

While there are differences between EAP counselling and therapy, this doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of support will differ, too. It goes without saying that you should always check the professional qualifications required by an EAP for its counsellors, but as Spill therapist Phil nicely summed up, “Whether I have six, 24, or unlimited sessions with someone, I treat all my therapy sessions equally: whether its a private session, through Spill, or another EAP, everyone gets the same level of care.”

Key differences EAP counselling
The number of sessions available
A limited number of sessions, usually 6
An definite number of sessions
The topics up for discussion Current problems that can be resolved with practical solutions A detailed exploration of past experiences to understand emotional and behavioural responses
The people who can get support Anyone can contact the EAP but only 20% will typically get counselling; can exclude certain types of pre-existing condition Anyone who wants or needs therapy
The confidentiality of sessions Sessions are confidential but there may be confidentiality boundaries to understand as the service is provided by an employer Sessions are confidential
The variety of styles of counselling available Depends on the variety of approaches offered by counsellors working with the EAP Can find a therapist that specialises in a particular approach to help address a certain issue

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What to expect from EAP counselling

It's all very well offering counselling to your team, but for many people, the sorts of problems and feelings they have can often feel ‘too small’ to deserve help. But the truth is, if one of your employees has a problem that’s impacting their personal and professional headspace, then it's worth talking about. 

What type of problems can be addressed through an EAP?

At Spill, we have a feature called ‘Ask a therapist’. It’s a message-based way for your team to send a therapist a question about what’s on their mind. Some people prefer the idea of messaging a therapist rather than speaking to someone, while others use this feature to ask questions they might not feel is suitable for a whole 50-minute therapy session. 

EAP counselling gives your employees the chance to work through problems both at work and at home. Using anonymous extracts from our Ask a therapist feature, here’s a few examples of what to expect from EAP counselling, from the types of problems to the possible resolutions.

🏡 Struggling with procrastination while working from home? Our Spill therapists share guidance on creating boundaries at home for work, building in breaks, and creating motivation, ending with the idea that our brains enjoy novelty and asking how the employee can shake it up.

🫶 Unsure how to support a colleague struggling with bereavement? Grief is a powerful, tiring and isolating emotion. Our Spill therapists stress the importance of simply being there: let the person know they’re not alone, invite them along to things to feel connected, and gently find out if there’s anything that could help, all the while honouring their need for space and understanding at this difficult time.

😖 Worrying about whether you’re good enough at your job? Imposter syndrome is more common than people think and in their reply, our Spill therapists discuss techniques to help employees overcome it: gather evidence of success, ask for feedback, acknowledge good qualities, and avoid striving for perfectionism.


🫥 Feeling unfulfilled and demotivated at work? Our Spill therapists explore the idea of ‘letting go’ for a while at work (i.e. not going above and beyond) to give the employee’s mind space to think about what they want from their career, where they are now, and how they can achieve those things.

🗣️ Anxious about the future of a romantic relationship? In the hustle and bustle of everyday life it can be easy to avoid big, scary conversations, but they can be a big distraction. Our Spill therapists encourage vulnerability: of course, there’s a risk, but by being honest, choosing the right time to talk, and understanding it's an ongoing conversation, the right resolution will become clear.

The challenges faced by these employees are likely things you and your team have all felt, too. And they’re feelings that you’ve probably dismissed as not being ‘worthy’ enough for a therapist's time. But, that’s what EAP counselling is for: to help your employees work through problems that are affecting their mental health, no matter how big or small.

And that is the perfect segue into the benefits of EAP counselling (we love it when that happens).

The benefits of EAP counselling

Mental health support of any kind is going to be beneficial. And the good news is, it's beneficial to both your company and your employees.

The motivation behind introducing an EAP is to look after your team’s mental health and wellbeing. With access to EAP counselling, your employees can better navigate personal and professional challenges that take up important headspace.

With your team feeling their best, they’ll thrive at work and as a result, the company as a whole will soak up a bunch of meaningful benefits:

  • Higher productivity: EAP counselling can help your team address personal issues that might affect their performance at work.
  • Fewer sick days: Counselling and therapy have been shown to build emotional strength resilience, which reduces the number of employee sick days.
  • A happier team: Having mental health support in place shows your team that you care about their wellbeing, creating a more positive work environment.
  • A good reputation: 73% of employees consider mental health support when choosing a new job, making EAP counselling not only an attractive benefit for the best talent, but shows your company culture to be forward-thinking and responsible.

Is EAP counselling the same as Spill therapy?

Here at Spill, we give your team access to high-quality talk therapy. We like to think of ourselves as a solid middle ground: we give your employees access to the benefits of counselling and therapy, but we’re not an EAP. And that means we can do things a little bit differently 👇

EAP counselling Spill therapy
Short-term support, usually six sessions Longer-term support of 8, 12, or 16 sessions, with the possibility of more
Solution-focused coaching to support current problems with practical solutions Support that's available anytime, for anything that needs talking about
Only a small number of people get counselling and those with pre-existing mental health conditions can be excluded Everyone can access therapy, whether they have a pre-existing condition or are experience mild mental health symptoms
Sessions are confidential but there may be additional confidential barriers to discuss with the employer Sessions are confidential
The variety of counselling approaches depends on the counsellors working with the EAP 50 different specialisms are covered and therapy is available in over 10 langauges
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Spill is typically used by 50% of employees in a year. That means up to 10 times as many people get support vs. an EAP.

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