Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a common fixture at many medium and midsize companies, however most small businesses don’t offer such a benefit. This could mean a significant opportunity for the independent private practice therapist (as well as group practices.) With just the expense of some shoe leather and perhaps some business cards, you can get more therapy clients with some creative marketing among small businesses in your area.

Create your own mini-EAP with local businesses

Small businesses with less than 50 employees are a ripe market for your therapy practice. Typically companies of this size don’t offer EAP benefits to employees generally because of cost or because they don’t even consider the possibility. Many smaller businesses, for example, don’t employ human resources professionals that are knowledgeable about these types of benefits. Owners often don’t realize the types of benefits they can offer employees. EAPs are “big company” type benefits. However, it’s logical that small company owners care just as much about their employee productivity and health as do larger companies. What this means for you is opportunity! What if you could make it easy for employers to offer mental health benefits? You could formally or informally contract with the business owner to offer your services at a discount for the company’s employees.

How to sell employers on your mini-EAP

There are many ways you can market your therapy services to employers, however old-fashioned visits and brochures can be very effective for this type of therapy marketing. You’ll first want to find out who the owner of a particular business is. If it’s a restaurant, you could simply walk in (between 230pm and 5pm is the best time, 10am is also a great time to drop into a restaurant.) If you do your homework (i.e. relentless Googling,) you can identify the owner, then ask for him or her by name. Next execute the following steps:

  1. Introduce yourself Explain that you are a professional mental health practitioner looking to expand your business. You’re an expert in typical issues affecting employees such as depression, anxiety, stress and relationship issues.
  2. Hand a brochure to the owner Let him or her know that this provides an overview of how you might be able to help him or her improve employee productivity and reliability. (We’ll talk more about the brochure later in this post.)
  3. Thank the owner for his or her time This is the time to not be persistent. If the owner wants to talk to you at that moment, then definitely stick around to have a conversation! However, mention that you know he or she is busy and you just wanted to leave a brochure. If he or she seems mildly receptive, ask if there is a good time later in the week to stop by to chat further. If he or she seems disinterested, distracted or otherwise not receptive, let him or her know that your contact information is on the back of the brochure if case they have questions.
  4. Follow up! Even for those companies that didn’t seem too interested, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a quick phone call to see if they want to discuss your offering further. After they’ve read your brochure, they may be interested, but since they’re also running a business it might slip their mind to reach out to you.

Structuring your mini-EAP

There are several ways you can create a small business Employee Assistance Program. The easiest way is simply to make an agreement with a small business to provide services at a discounted rate paid by the employee. This costs the employer nothing and will likely be the easiest version to “sell” the owner on your services. You simply say that employees can have sessions with you for $x per session (where normally it’s $y) per session. You can also offer free screening services as well as providing some informational materials for employees on various mental health issues. This is a low cost investment for you, but it could result in several new clients!

If you are an online therapist, it makes it even easier — you can conduct the free screenings using HIPAA compliant video conferencing. This is highly efficient since you can schedule screening sessions easily and you reduce your overhead — rather than having potentially dozens of people show up at your office for a brief screening, you can do quick video counseling sessions to be able to handle more people in less time.

Online screenings also have the great advantage of privacy: employees might not want to be seen by their fellow employees in your office. The increased confidentiality means a higher rate of utilization for the free screening which means you’ll likely have a higher conversion rate from the free screenings to actual clients. If you’re more interested in online therapy, read our brief article about how to add online therapy to your existing practice.

Marketing your mini-EAP

As I mentioned in the section above about selling this concept to employers, you’ll want a decent brochure. While inbound marketing can be a great way to promote your mini-EAP over the long term, the reality is that not many small employers would even be aware that such a program is possible, so an inbound approach will take a long time to gain traction. However, you could begin an inbound approach in addition to more conventional outbound methods. For more information about inbound marketing for therapists, please read our post How inbound marketing can help you get more therapy clients.

Your mini-EAP brochure

The brochure to market your therapy practice mini-EAP is very important! The reason is that most business owners don’t even know that they want or need your therapy services. They think of things like “employee mental health” in the abstract, if at all. It’s a big-company thing to them so they aren’t actively considering it. The brochure needs to have several parts

Why employee mental health is important to their business

This is the place to briefly and succinctly mention the effects of things like depression and anxiety on employee productivity. As with all marketing, it’s best to be contextual. While a 500 person company loses over a million dollars per year in productivity from depression, that statistic doesn’t speak as effectively to company with 30 employees. You may want to mention it in real terms such as “How many absences, sick days or bad weeks do your employees have per month?” You can provide some statistics that are meaningful to their sized business. With a smaller company, a sick day has a more profound effect than it does for a larger company. The marginal cost of a sick day is much, much higher for a small company. Some basic statistics that could be interesting:

  • 20% of all adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. 15% of those also experience co-morbidity with substance abuse. If you’re marketing to restaurants, substance abuse problems are especially rampant (ask anyone who has worked in a restaurant for some anecdotal proof!)
  • More workers are absent from work because of stress and anxiety than from physical illness or injury.
  • Less than one third of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder receive treatment in any given year.
  • About 80% of people with depression will recover fully with appropriate diagnosis, treatment and monitoring

You can frame these statistics to be even more meaningful. For example, “If you have 30 employees, a least 6 of them have a treatable mental illness. Imagine if you could increase the productivity of those six employees. How many sick days did your team have over the past month? What if you could reduce that number by 50%?” Of course, you certainly want to do your own research and have numbers to back up your assertions, but putting statistics in a real-world context demonstrates the value of your services to their bottom line (as well as making the employer feel good about potentially helping his employees.) Happy employees work harder and have higher retention rates than unhappy ones (which lowers recruitment and training costs.)

How you can help with their employee mental health

This section of the brochure should discuss you and your qualifications in a clear, non-academic way. Don’t use meaningless jargon or go into detail about your treatment methodology. Simply make it clear that you are qualified and experienced in helping people just like his employees. Be sure to mention your license and relevant academic credentials or any relevant training you’ve had. This sells the credibility of your service.

Costs and how to get started

Make it very easy for an employer to say yes. You’ll want to provide a step-by-step implementation plan so the employer doesn’t have to even think about it. For example, you could suggest the following steps:

  1. The employer would make a company announcement, post a flier in the break room or send out a company wide email announcing that there will be free mental health screenings for anyone who is interested. Your contact information would be shared for employees to contact you directly. The employer would stress that everything is confidential and they will not have any knowledge of a specific employee’s use of the free screening.
  2. Employees that chose to book a full consultation after the results of the screening could do so at a reduced rate of however much per session. If you can convince the employer to pay some of the cost, even better, but even without employer subsidization, employees still receive reduced cost treatment.
  3. If you can do online counseling sessions, mention this!
  4. Each month, you could provide a utilization report to employers. This would be nothing more than the number of employees you treated. Obviously no protected health information would be shared. You simply want to validate to the employer that their employees are actually using the service. You might also encourage the employer to start comparing their own statistics (tardiness, no-show, sick days, productivity) both before you started as well as during. If they can see some real value happening, it might be easier to convince them to help eventually subsidize some of the session fees (thus giving you more revenue per session.)

Next steps for you

Hopefully this article provided you with some inspiration on how you can expand your mental health therapy business. By getting out there, thinking creatively and reaching out to smaller companies that could benefit from your skills you will be on your way to building a strong, sustainable therapy private practice. Also be sure to consider how alternative modalities of treatment such as online therapy might also improve your ability to deliver quality care more efficiently.

For your next steps, see if you can identify some smaller companies in your area that might be perfect for your mini-EAP approach. Research their owners, create a brochure tailored to their context and start knocking on the doors!

Published by Brian Dear

Brian is the cofounder and CEO of iCouch, Inc. He has an extensive background in software engineering, inbound marketing and mental health practice management.

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    1. That’s going to vary widely, but some general guidelines would be for 25 or fewer employees, it might be between $30-100 per year per employee. For a company with 26-100 employees, it might be $30-75 per employee, and the price would decrease with the number of employees.

      So if, for example, you charged a small business with 25 employees $2500 per year, and your typical therapy session fee is $85, that would mean that the fee would represent about 30 sessions per year. Considering the actual utilization of such programs, you might not do even close to that since most EAP programs aren’t heavily used by everyone. If during the year you only saw 3 employees for 3 sessions each, that results in an effective session rate of $277. Not too bad.

      In addition to charging the business, you could perhaps limit the number of sessions per employee in order to limit your potential risk. For example, you could limit it to 3 sessions with additional sessions requiring an extra payment from the employee. Then, with the 25 person company, your maximum “risk” would be 75 sessions over a year which would end up being $33 per session. However, in no company I’ve ever heard of is there a 100% EAP use rate.

      It’s going to take a bit of math to figure out what numbers work for you, but just for references, the average annual utilization of EAPs is 2-6%. So if that holds true for our hypothetical 25 person company, you’re looking at 1 or 2 employees actually using your services from that EAP contract. So you could use those numbers and figure out an affordable number to pitch small businesses while still earning a significant source of additional income for your practice.

      I hope that helps!

  1. What about all the EAPA standards?….they are pretty extensive. If I am only providing therapy/counseling services, can I navigate those standards in a reasonable manner? I would of course adhere to the LMFT standards of privacy, etc.

    1. We aren’t attorneys, but you could likely ignore those standards without any legal consequences — they are recommendations from an industry group and aren’t a legal requirement or even enforceable. It’s somewhat like the PCI compliance used in the payments industry — there’s no legal requirement to be PCI compliant, however many companies require PCI compliance before they’ll use your payments system. Same with a Mini EAP — the size of companies you’re targeting (small business) aren’t going to have regulatory concerns requiring EAPA. If you wanted to start a “real” EAP for large corporations, then you’re going to have a more cumbersome time as you’d need to consider the EAPA standards. They’re very unlikely to even apply to something like a “mini” EAP. Regarding privacy — following HIPAA is pretty much all you need to do. You don’t need to make it complicated — as long as you’re practicing within your scope of practice and following HIPAA — you’ll be fine. If you start to add other practitioners and turn your mini EAP into something more formal, then you can get more serious about the EAPA standards. Once again, we aren’t attorneys and aren’t offering legal advice — use your best judgement and consult with an attorney if you’re concerned.

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