Up Close & Personnel: Faculty and Staff Assistance Program
When her world went topsy-turvy overnight recently, a University staffer turned to the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program on campus.
One day the woman had a good marriage, a nice house, enough money, two healthy young children and a job she could manage.
The next day, she and her husband were shocked when he was called to active military duty years after he finished his reserves commitment.
She suddenly had to retool herself as a single working mother of two, while worried about her husbands safety and trying to pay the same bills with one of their salaries shrunken to military pay.
I faced having to do everything myself when I was used to having two people do it, she said. It was extremely helpful for me to know I had resources on campus to help me and that I didnt have to go through this alone.
The program counselors helped her draw a blueprint for her new temporary life. They met with her and her husband to let them discuss their anger and their fears. They suggested ways to keep her husband connected to her life and their children. They even helped her plan a program to stay healthy despite the coming stresses.
The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program has been operating on campus since 1989, and it was one of the first of its kind on a U.S. campus--a free and confidential service for all University employees.
The licensed clinical social workers and certified employee assistance professionals at the center are human antidotes for stress.
Cecily Sawyer-Harmon, certified employee assistance professional and a licensed clinical social worker with 30 years of experience, coordinates the office. Donna Tuites, a certified employee assistance professional with a masters degree in counseling, has worked at the University for 21 years. Pattie Porter, a licensed clinical social worker, has worked as a professional mediator for 10 years.
From the moment staff assistant Julie Skeen greets employees at the door, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
Life is a process, and sometimes people just need another ear, she said. We help people through lifes crises--from dealing with conflicts in the workplace to finding eldercare for aging parents.
Having an internal employee assistance office is a win-win situation for the Universitys administration, faculty and staff. The campus community can get free, confidential help a short walk away from their desks.
According to studies conducted by the International Association of Employee Assistance Professionals in Education, the cost savings to universities of having internal EAPs is significant because of insurance savings and because departments are able to keep trained employees on the job with a minimum of lost time.
When you compare the counselors private rates with in-house costs, Sawyer-Harmon estimates the University saved thousands of dollars on a recent intervention with a small group of employees. Because the University does not have an ombudsman, the campus EAP often serves in that role.
For example, counselors conducted individual sessions with each employee in the small group. They held mediations. They performed testing and coaching, and they conducted retreats. As Sawyer-Harmon described it: It was like an onion. We were peeling back the layers to see what needed to be done.
When there is a problem that stymies a department, faculty, deans, employees, supervisors or department chairs often turn to the office for help.
The counselors may conduct one-on-one sessions with all the players. They offer conflict-management services. They guide the parties to make decisions to manage their conflict.
An employee or a faculty member will come in with a problem, Porter said. Sometimes, we find out its not really about the individual employee. Its the whole unit. We have to be very careful not to take sides.
The counselors listen to the complaints, and then suggest baby steps and bigger steps toward rebuilding the community. They also establish group rules for interaction and set boundaries in the hopes that problems will be averted.
The offices first contact with some employees is an anonymous phone call, Tuites said. Some come to borrow a self-help book from the offices lending library. Some just want a referral to an outside mental-health professional, and they prefer a counselors suggestion to poring through the phone book.
The counselors see tears flowing after some individual and group sessions, and they often get thank-you notes. One of Porters clients checks in every year around his birthday to let her know how hes doing.
All humans are works in progress, and this office works with people all across the community, Sawyer-Harmon said. The world today is so complex and people spend so much time at their jobs that its great to know that theres a little place right at your workplace where you can feel comfortable getting help, she said. Having this program lets the community know that they are cared about.
Counselors at the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program handled 700 visits in 2003-04, 27 percent work-related. With kindness and tears and professional experience, they helped employees with deal death, divorce, parenting issues, conflict, stress, substance abuse and interpersonal communications.
They work closely together helping each other with their cases. I love the collegiality that Cecily and Donna and I have, Porter said.
Sawyer-Harmon said shes excited to come to work in the morning and see who will come into her life and whose life shell enter: Its an honor that people trust their lives to us. Im a social worker. Thats who I am. It fills my soul.
Faculty and Staff Assistance Program seminars
Plan ahead for upcoming free FSAP brown-bag lunch seminars. Call (302) 831 2414 for reservations. The tentative spring semester schedule includes:
Photos by Kevin Quinlan
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