STUTTGART, Germany -- While the military campaigns to reduce the social stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment for war-related stress, Dr. Bala Fischer hopes to do much the same with the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Employee Assistance Program.

"We're trying to change the culture of stigma ... you should go forward and seek help," said Fischer, the garrison alcohol and drug control officer, and certified EAP professional.

The garrison's Employee Assistance Program provides confidential, short-term counseling and referral services to civilian employees, family members of civilians and military, and retirees at no cost. Local national employees may also be seen on a case-by-case basis.

While EAP falls under the Army Substance Abuse Program, Fischer is quick to point out the program goes far beyond alcohol or drugs.

"It's about any human problem one could have that impacts on work or personal life, such as depression, anxiety, financial or marital problems," he said.

Fischer, a licensed mental health social worker, said the program does not provide long-term counseling and therapy, but rather brief, solution-focused intervention and referral services to help people achieve a balance between their work, family and other personal responsibilities. "I can see someone up to six times, but there is flexibility."

After an assessment, a plan of action is recommended. If the client needs medication for depression, they will be referred to a psychiatrist. If someone comes in with a physical illness, they will be referred to a medical doctor. Depending on the situation, Fischer said a client could be referred to Social Work Services, the family life chaplain, Tricare or a mental health provider.

He stressed the EAP is a confidential program. Those who seek EAP services are afforded privacy by law, regulation and the professional ethics of EAP counselors. "Unless the client gives me consent to speak to his or her supervisor, spouse or family member, I cannot discuss anything," he said. He added there are certain limits to confidentiality, such as if the client is a threat to themselves or others, involved in illegal activities, or if child or spouse abuse is involved.

Participation in the EAP is voluntary. While a supervisor can refer an employee if the employee's personal problems are impacting job performance, conduct or attendance, ultimately, it is the employee's decision to participate or not.

No one gets through life without problems. "My hope is if a person has an issue that is impacting his or her life, they should not fear stigma, and seek help," said Fischer. "Get the help of professionals."

Page last updated Thu April 23rd, 2009 at 04:34