EACC celebrates 40th anniversary and a commitment to helping Blazers stay well

UAB’s Employee Assistance and Counseling Center is home to 14 clinical team members, a variety of counseling options, and programming such as support groups, workshops and seminars, yoga classes, suicide prevention training courses, and more.
Written by: Brooke Carbo
Media contact: Savannah Koplon

Stream eacc front desk inside widgetWhen the University of Alabama at Birmingham Faculty and Staff Assistance Program opened its doors in July 1982, there were only three staff members — including the program’s first director, Walter Cox, Ed.D.

Four decades and a few name changes later, the UAB Employee Assistance and Counseling Center has grown exponentially, both in staff numbers and in provided services. Today the EACC boasts 14 clinical team members and offers a variety of counseling options, including traditional and telehealth therapy, life coaching, critical incident services, and one-at-a-time therapy. The center also offers support groups, workshops and seminars, yoga classes, stress management resources, suicide prevention training courses, and more.

These expanded services reflect UAB’s innovative spirit as outlined in its strategic plan, Forging the Future, says EACC Director Tami Long, Ph.D., who has worked with the center for 18 years.

“When you think about UAB, you think about how we want to be innovators,” Long said.

Programs like art therapy, the Hopeful Healing support group and guided yoga classes are some of the center’s more recent additions, beginning first in 2006 as part of the EACC’s Live Well, Be Well initiative, a precursor to UAB Employee Wellness, and continuing with support from former director Anne Hilbers and the onboarding of specialized staff like Carrie May, art therapist and EACC counselor.

Art therapy, support groups and informational workshops are forms of therapeutic intervention that provide alternatives for those worrying about stigmas surrounding traditional counseling, Long says.

“People find a way to meet their needs in these other kinds of programs,” Long said.

Making a difference

While the EACC continues to expand its offerings, the center’s individual, couples and family counseling options continue to be its most frequented services. UAB, UAB Medicine and VIVA Health employees are eligible for up to 15 free counseling sessions per year with the EACC.

Amy Atkisson, director of Honors Advising and Retention in the UAB Honors College, has utilized EACC services since becoming a UAB employee more than 20 years ago, counting her sessions with EACC counselor Alesia Adams as among the most beneficial.

“Alesia has literally and figuratively saved my life,” Atkisson said. “She has helped and supported me through not only managing my longstanding mental health diagnoses but also dealing with work issues, handling two major physical diagnoses, coming out as LGBTQ, going back to school and completing a master’s degree, and regular life stuff.”

Inisde quietroom Atkisson quit smoking five years ago, an achievement she credits to her work with Adams and the EACC. The center offers group and one-on-one coaching as part of its Tobacco Cessation programming. More recently, Atkisson began attending Self-Care Studio virtual sessions during UAB’s limited-business operations required by the COVID-19 pandemic. A partnership between the EACC and UAB Arts in Medicine, Self-Care Studio encourages a focus on wellness through personal creativity. The twice-monthly virtual sessions enabled her to “connect with other humans and kept me from losing my mind,” she explained.

Switching gears

Virtual Self-Care Studio sessions are just one example of how the EACC pivoted to offer telehealth options during the COVID pandemic. Many of the EACC staff were already trained to provide distance-counseling services, which had long been an available resource for UAB Medicine employees who work in off-campus affiliated clinics and became the care standard during limited-business operations.

“It was a smooth transition for us,” Long said. “Of course, with anything new, there was that anxiety that comes with it; but I will say we made a swift transition.”

Even after employees returned to work on campus, Long says, many chose to continue with virtual counseling sessions rather than pivot to in-person meetings.

“They told us it’s more convenient,” she explained. “So, now that we’re back from the pandemic, the distance counseling is here to stay. We’ve had to shift with the times — it’s been really interesting.”