Julie Fabsik-Swarts, MS, CFRE, CAP is the CEO of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA). EAPA supports thousands of professionals in Employee Assistance throughout the United States and in over 40 countries. She is a skilled and dynamic nonprofit, association, and sports leader with over 35 years of experience. Raised in New York City, Julie has led such prestigious organizations as the National Postdoctoral Association, the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association, and the national governing body of an Olympic sport.
Additionally, she has worked for organizations such as The Pennsylvania State University, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, The Seattle Organizing Committee of the Goodwill Games, the Purple Heart Foundation, UC Berkeley, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania, and the American College.
Julie has extensive experience having served on numerous nonprofit Board of Directors including the Philadelphia Committee on City Policy, Women in Development, and the National Association of Women’s Gymnastics Judges. She is an accomplished author having written numerous articles for Advancing Philanthropy Magazine, Purple Heart Magazine, and the book Parenting a Gymnast. Julie earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from San Diego State University and a Master of Science focusing on Sports Management from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
She is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), a Chartered Advisor of Philanthropy (CAP) from the American College, and a certified nonprofit executive from LaSalle University. On the personal side, Julie is a nationally rated Women’s Gymnastics Judge for over four decades for USA Gymnastics and the NCAA, a certified to official for collegiate tumbling and acrobatics (NCATA), and a certified judge for youth acrobatics and tumbling competitions.
She is President of Blue Tail Consulting and has traveled to over 35 countries including Siberia Russia to teach, Australia for the 2000 Olympics and to Asia to scuba dive and to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary. A certified Master Scuba Dive, she lives with her husband and dive partner, Mike, and her rescued dogs live in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area.
Connect with Julie on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Employee Assistance Professional
- The advantage for an EAP to be a member of EAPA
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:03] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:20] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio, and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have Julie Swarts and she is with Employees Assistance Professionals Associations, EPA. Welcome, Julie.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:00:36] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:37] I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about EPA. How are you serving folks?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:00:42] So EPA is the Employees Assistance Professionals Association, otherwise known as EPA’s. And in the private sector, about 84% of American companies have an EPA on staff. And in the government world, it’s about 90%. Yet those 74 million people don’t always seem to recognize that this is a benefit that comes with part of their package for employment. And it’s a great resource. Ips are like the unsung heroes of our corporate world. They are there to help individuals who are struggling with mental health issues maybe depression, anxiety, addiction. If you’re dealing with workplace violence or maybe a maybe need a treatment center, maybe you’ve got an issue with domestic violence or child care. They’re there to help you. And they are amazing individuals who get don’t get a lot of credit and certainly not overpaid. And we’re here to talk about them and the great work that they do. And EPA is their association that supports them and helps them grow as professionals.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:48] And then a person that becomes an employee assistance professional. Is that part of H.R. like how are they involved with the organization?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:01:57] Usually just like a another benefit like retirement person or a medical benefit. Aps are a variety of different ways and they can either work full time for a specific company, so they’re on staff at a hospital or corporation, or maybe they get contracted out. So maybe the corporation hires an outside company such as Beacon or Life Works or some E&P to hire them to be providing services to assess and to refer out to help solve whatever problem is going on with the employee. And then study after study has shown us that when employees reach out and ask for help, we can keep them in their jobs and make them productive long term employees, which is good for the employee, their families, and for the corporate world.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:49] So how did kind of employee assistance professionals come about? What’s the history of this? Were they kind of bubble up from the corporation or from the government? How how did it occur?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:03:01] Neither of those they actually their roots were in addiction. Starting out in Alcoholics Anonymous kind of area. And if you go to our website at EPA, CSN org, you can see the whole history there. But really its roots were specifically in helping individuals battle alcohol addiction in the fifties and sixties eventually. Epa was born in 1980 to help support all of those individuals that were growing professions in making this. Something that every corporation should have and every employee should have access to.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:43] Now, when a company is deciding to have an employee assistance professional, what are some of the like? What would be a reason not to have one?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:03:54] Well, there is a cost to it, just like bringing on medical benefits for your employees or bringing on retirement programs. There is a cost, but a recent study we have a study called Workplace Outcome Suites, which recently showed us that most cases there are 1% or less than the benefits budget. So they’re really a great bargain. And overall, the statistics are telling us they are doing amazing work. They are helping people be more engaged in the work that they do. They’re helping prevent turnover. They’re helping them deal with their issues so that they can stay productive on a job. Also, if you think about today’s news, if preventing gun violence or if something happens, helping solve and prevent PTSD on the other side of a critical incident, unfortunately, that’s the reality. So when commit suicide, a gun is brought to work. Something happens in the home front. These are the folks that are helping to deal with these critical issues. And let me tell you, Covid’s been no friend to the gaps. So many people working at home in isolation, very high rates of depression and anxiety.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:00] And and the way that an EAP helps is that they become a resource for the employee to help them if they’re struggling in one of these areas.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:05:11] Exactly. So maybe they might help them get counseling. Maybe they might help them get the help of a psychiatrist or a treatment center. They might help them find a resource to deal with domestic violence. They might help them even find child care centers that might fit into their their financial needs and employee package.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:31] And this is one of those things that once the employee is aware of a benefit like this, I would imagine they become more loyal and the retention improves.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:05:40] Exactly. Unfortunately, we still have a tremendous stigma with mental health issues these days, and ourselves and our association partners are working very hard to try and break down that stigma. You know, no one have a problem saying I’m going to the doctor because I broke my leg. But going to the problem, going to the doctor or the therapist is a lot less comfortable. But the good thing about it is it’s usually available at work. It’s usually and it’s always confidential unless there’s a crisis situation. But it can also get individuals into badly needed care much faster than outside medical benefits will help you get to a psychiatrist or psychologist. So we’re hearing about 3 to 4 months to get a psychologist or psychiatrist. They’re just so overwhelmed out there, whereas an EAP and if there’s a real need, they can help do it. It’s usually a matter of days to weeks.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:36] Now, what about kind of coaches? Do you help in that area or do you kind of draw a line of this has to be kind of a physician led interaction?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:06:46] Well, many EAP, these are counselors themselves. But there’s a very fine line that if they’re referring and assessing, assessing excuse me, assessing and referring, they are not doing the counseling themselves. They’re usually putting that out and referring that to someone else in the mental health field. Most of our EAP are licensed social workers, psychologists, counselors, therapists, nurses, even. Sometimes they even have their second, second careers. They’ve found a calling in the EAP world. So they’re really an amazing group of individuals who have received a whole lot of training and now are really putting it right into the daily work space.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:28] Now, as a leader of this group, are you spending a lot of time kind of coaching up your yaps or is it educating kind of corporations and government about the services that the app can provide?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:07:44] So most of our time in leadership is spent working to educate and develop our apps as professionals. We have a certification program called The Seep, and also we provide a number of educational opportunities in a variety of areas. Anything from understanding what’s going on with marijuana across the states, understanding different aspects of psychedelics, how do you deal with counseling someone who’s addressing the current crisis issues abortion, gun violence? All those issues are right up front with our counselors. Additionally, we run an annual conference. This year’s conference is going to be in Norfolk, Virginia, October seven through ninth. So we’re really excited about that. And then we do things like we create. We are part of a team. That is advocating on the federal level for positive mental health advocacy. And we are really looking to bring on the next generation of yaps. I hate to tell you, but a lot of our folks and myself are beginning to see that gray on the roof. And we’re really hopeful that we can reach out to the next generation of social workers, counselors and really think about get them to think about EAP as a career choice, really.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:03] So that’s a challenge that I would think that this would be an area that a lot of people are drawn to because, number one, it’s helping so many people. And, you know, there are so many more service minded people, I would think today that they would want to kind of feel good about their day to day.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:09:19] I think it’s one of those best kept secrets. 74 million people have EAP as part of their benefits package, yet we don’t have anywhere near percentage of 74 million people. Very it’s much lower than it should be. And I think it’s because one of the social stigma and two I think people don’t realize that they have I have an EAP available and what that means and I think the biggest successes we’ve seen have been when CEOs embrace EAP work, they get out there and say, you know, we all need some help. Sometimes we’re all human beings. No matter where you are in the globe, we are there and we are needing help. And I reach out for help. We recommend that you do. We want to keep you for around for a long time. And we want to see all your challenges met. And I use the EAP. Why don’t you join me when you need that? And by the a CEO being able to say that it goes a long, long way. Also, regular seminars and promotion of that. The EAP program is there at work has gone a long way as well in conjunction with wellness programs such as meditation and yoga. All those are wonderful, but having that mental health issue is really a benefit that’s second to none.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:35] So now is there is there a program for like young people in college so they can learn about being in the AP as a career choice?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:10:44] There’s not enough programs in college, and we would love to have more. We’d love to reach out to them. We’re trying to reach to many academics to get them getting EAP as part of their curriculum, especially in social work and is part of counseling or work as a nurse or therapist, we really believe that it would be a great asset to their their curriculum and it would help introduce the profession to a lot of people who don’t even realize it exists. People who have it as a benefit don’t realize it exists. So young people definitely don’t because they usually aren’t working at corporations that have that kind of support system.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:21] So the EAP that exists right now and they’re working, are they sometimes solopreneur is like their that’s their business and they’re serving a variety of, you know, industry or government government offices within their where they’re located. Is that how it works? Are they’re part of a like kind of a mega company that does EAP as a service for lots of people.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:11:43] So a quick answer is yes. We have single practitioners that hang out their shingle and will take on clients as referred. And we have individuals who are hybrid. We have individuals who work in union situations right in on shop floors and understand what’s going on in day to day with the employees. We have individuals who work remotely on large, large corporations such as Beacon Health, Life Works, some jail, some to name a few. So we have every kind of work situation you can imagine some 100% remote online that you would reach out to someone on a phone or a zoom or some are in person and some are hybrid. But the important aspect is that we want to make sure that people know they’re there for them and that they can reach out. Confidentiality applies and they are 100% of the time.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:37] Now, if if an EAP is out there, are they kind of an automatic member of your association or is this something that you would like them to join to be part of, you know, the greater good here and everybody helping everybody.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:12:53] So they have to join. But there is a benefit to being a member of EPA. All our educational programs are certification program, our conference, all that, all those items are all tremendously discounted. We teach a full course load of EAP education and professional mental health education, and it’s a great way to get those get those hours in. Additionally, on bigger things such as our conference, we can go out and get the approval of social work and MSW or different other associations so that if you’re a social worker and you need credits to keep your license, you can come to an EPA event and still get social work professional. Development hours. So we hope that individuals come on out and who are IPS and become members. A couple of other things that we do, we offer every Wednesday and this was started back two years ago at the beginning of the pandemic. Every Wednesday we have usually about 100 apps dial into a Zoom call and there’s a facilitator and a topic, but it’s an opportunity for them to share best practices, to almost let their hair down and be comfortable among each other and to hear what other people are going through. And it’s really wonderful to have one app who’s struggling here that they’re not alone. The other thing we’ve been doing is the beginning of the year. We gave 16 weeks, so we call them free Friday webinars for members. You get 16 professional development hours to use just by coming every Friday and learning a new topic. So we try and provide as much support as we can for our members and we even find niches. There’s a specific group of apps and health care apps in various aspects in the government, and if we can help them facilitate them getting together higher education together, especially around our conference, it’s really a great experience.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:51] And then there’s also local branches that an EAP can join and become part of that local community as well.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:14:58] Absolutely. We have chapters throughout the country and they’re all volunteer led and they develop their own professional education as well as mentoring. And then we are actually in officially in nine other countries, we call them Branches and Asia being the most popular, Japan and China and Taiwan, very active branches of EPA. And then there are other places in the world that we are trying to make headway in. We actually have had members in over 40 countries in the world.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:30] Now, I would imagine if you’re in the AP and what better way to kind of plug into your community and learn just from people the good, the bad, the ugly about what’s going on, how to grow my practice, what other services are out there. Or I’d learn about it and be able to get credentials to increase my value. And it just seems like a no brainer for anybody that’s in the AP.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:15:55] Well, we hope we hope to get in front of everybody and hope they agree with you on that point. And, you know, any profession, whether you’re a doctor in the AMA or a nurse in the ANA or any other profession, it’s always best to join your association. Together we are stronger. We can find a common voice. We can find what is most advantageous for that. Profession and we’re always to say all associations are non profit. So we are owned and operated by a volunteer board of directors. No one gets paid to be on the board of directors. They give a tremendous amount of hours and we have a number of committees people volunteer on whether it’s develop the conference or to support membership or specific task force. Currently, we’re actually working on redoing our website. I actually have 973 pages being reviewed by volunteers to make sure they’re accurate before they go on to the new website. It’s a great way to build friendships, networks, support systems, mentors, association work is just been a wonderful boon for my personal ethics and goals of my career.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:03] Now, can you share a piece of advice maybe, for that young person out there that hasn’t, you know, kind of really leveraged the association to its fullest? What are some things you would do if you were coaching a young person that’s an employee assistance professional and they join. They just joined. What are some of the things they should do to really kind of wring out the most value from their membership?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:17:30] So I would highly recommend coming to those Wednesday, we call them Wednesday wellness sessions where you can get to meet and see a whole bunch of folks and build a little network. I also recommend coming to our conference where you can build one on one opportunities to really find that person that’s going to share with you their vision and how they got there. You can see the best of what they do and is really an impressive group and it’s always amazing is they’re so willing to share their time, their expertise, their talents, and they really want to see the next generation come on. So they are more than welcoming and bringing on new folks. Additionally, we have a great certification program. We’ve just converted it in the last year to five learning modules where you can sit in the comfort of your home, in your jammies and and learn about ERP work and then take a test. And each time you do that for five modules and then if you’re not already an experienced VP, you can go through our mentoring program where you can learn a lot of different areas by experience professionals, and in the end you will have a network, you will have a certification, and you will have resources for questions, concerns, challenges, be everything you need. And then we expect you to get involved and start leading us for the future.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:46] Right. And that’s an important thing, that joining is great, but you have to get involved, right? You have to take action. You have to kind of volunteer and demonstrate kind of your passion and your intelligence and your skills.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:19:01] Quite often, many things in life are what you you get out of it, what you put into it. And I think associations are definitely along those lines. They most people who I’ve talked to in this association love what they do and are passionate about it, but they are also passionate about the work EPA does. And we couldn’t have formed, developed and been supportive to the next generation. Now the staff are not. We are profit professionals, we are not yaps. We expect each to deliver and determine our direction. Our course load are whatever the next generation of VAP need that is all generated by professionals.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:42] Now is there a story you can share about the impact that the AP has made on an organization that you’re aware of and maybe help them get to a new level?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:19:52] Well, I’ll tell you two stories about me personally. So the reason I took this position was, one, I had a good friend of mine still do a good friend of mine who realized that she was struggling with alcohol and she went to her E.P. at her work and they helped her get clean and sober. And she is a recovering alcoholic to this day, clean and sober and and having her best life. And that’s the bottom line is helping workers have their best life and addition. I also have a relative who is actually dealing with a very stressful mental health issue. And it turned out he was bipolar, but he didn’t know this at the time, went to work and was really suicidal and called his E.P. and they walked him into a mental health facility where he was able to get diagnosed and followed and treated on medication. And he is a very happy and now a productive employee of this company. So those are the kinds of success stories I personally have witnessed. I also heard about a great story about an individual who was struggling at a West Coast university, and the gap was kind of on like almost like a retainer when they thought they really needed assistance, they would call them. So this university department called them and they said, you know, this this gentleman’s not doing well.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:21:16] He’s struggling in his position and he keeps talking about his guns and his coworkers are really getting nervous. So the AP came in and met with them and they had a long conversation. And I’m making this sound much quicker and easier than it was, but it was an extensive conversation about what his goals were, what the challenges of the job were, and in the long run, they decided it would have been a great time for him to retire and he could go out with medical benefits and nice money package and respect of his coworkers and and his supervisors. And it was time and together they walked down to the HR office. They got the gentleman all the paperwork done, and he left with respect and happiness, as opposed to the scenarios where someone feels very disrespected and underappreciated and they try to come back with their guns and find their boss or whoever else in the way. And then you have nothing but tragedy. You have heartbreak, you have violence in the workplace, and there’s there’s no win. And in the long run, that’s a little bit invested in the benefits. Budget saves a lot a lot of tragedy, lawsuits, money, heartache and stress and production of an organization. So EPS are, as I said, were are often the unsung heroes.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:36] Absolutely. I mean, the impact is real. So if there’s an E.P. out there that wants to learn more about the association or a corporate organization or a government organization that wants to learn more, what is the website for the association?
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:22:53] So it’s EPA, SSN dot org. So EAP Association dot org EPA SSN dot org.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:03] Well, Julie, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Julie Fabsik-Swarts: [00:23:09] Thank you so much. We appreciate the opportunity to share the great work we are doing throughout the world.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:14] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see all next time on the Association Leadership Radio.