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The world has been noticeably different this year. There’s been a notable rise in stress and anxiety amid the pandemic and social unrest, and those concerns continue to evolve as we ask, “What’s Next?”

It’s hard to predict how our day-to-day lives will change and how big and small businesses alike will recover. The anxiety of these and many other unknowns, and many have suffered new or increased mental health issues as a result. This means behavioral health is more important than ever, as is the need for alternative delivery methods.

IBH Solutions, which has been providing technology-enabled behavioral health solutions for more than 30 years, is now offering virtual Behavioral Health Coaching to its members and their families. From anxiety and depression, to professional challenges and personal relationships, members and their families will have access to customized programs to help them reach their individual goals.

“As people head back to work, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what our ‘new normal’ will look like,” said Dr. Brian Mayhugh, IBH’s Chief Clinical Officer. “One in five people in the United States is living with some form of mental health issue, and it’s crucial to offer people digital technologies to better meet people where they are so they can get the support they need.”

The Process is Simple
After downloading the app to their devices, members take a short assessment to identify low-, medium- and high-risk areas of concern. They then select which goals they want to work on, and based on the degree of concern, members will use a combination of self-guided virtual programs and text or audio chats with a professional counselor. The member also might be referred to the employee assistance program (EAP) to find a clinician who can best meet their needs.

How can digital coaching improve EAP engagement?
Well, for one, people are actually using it. Historically, traditional EAP services touch less than 20% through individual and worksite services, and no more than 5% actually engage in those services.

“The behavioral health services offered through employee assistance programs can’t help anyone if they aren’t used,” said Dan Clark, CEO of IBH Solutions. “That’s why IBH is working hard to close the gap between access and utilization of services through technology-based solutions.”

The new coaching model reports a 37% registration rate, and of those who register, 89% complete the assessment. Of the 15 goal areas supported by the new app, anxiety, stress, relationships and work issues top the most commonly set goals, with anxiety seeing the greatest increase in recent months.

This level of engagement in the coaching app is leading to spectacular results for members and employers. Independent research conducted by UNC Chapel Hill showed a 48% decrease in anxiety symptoms and a 59% decrease in depression symptoms after six months exclusively using the self-guided coaching without medication and without live counseling sessions.

Contributing to the higher engagement is that the breadth and depth of programs offered significantly exceeds those of traditional programs.

In the past, EAP programs have focused primarily on workplace-related issues, but as people’s work and personal lives exceedingly overlap, IBH’s coaching has expanded its scope to include much more personalized support. In addition to the ever-important professional topics like workplace productivity and workplace conflict, or major personal topics such as substance abuse or anger management, members can find support for social anxiety, sleep problems and even public speaking.

“Offering a wider range of coaching topics gives members access to support for what personal or professional challenges they face,” said Paulette Garside, IBH’s Director of Product Development. “Ultimately, by addressing both, the goal is to help people become happier healthy individuals and employees.”

Also contributing to higher engagement results is that the self-guided sessions are typically five to six minutes long, meaning busy professionals can easily squeeze a session into their busy day. Depending on the particular goals, there can be anywhere from nine to 30 sessions in a program, and it’s the member who decides how often they want to participate.

Unlike many health-related apps available, IBH’s Behavioral Health Coaching is encouraging without being a nuisance – reminders are more like a gentle nudge about once a week instead of daily alerts the user will quickly start to ignore.

Chatting with a coach via text is similar. Be it synchronous and asynchronous chat sessions, coaches may check in on them to see how they’re doing or to celebrate progress and milestones. But IBH’s coaches make it a point to encourage members without being annoying – the interactions are still on the member’s terms and schedule.

Another reason for this program’s success is ease of access and use. The experts harnessed the latest technology, including artificial intelligence and gamification, to put the best possible coaching program in the palm of the member’s hand.

IBH’s Behavioral Health Coaching is seamlessly integrated with the larger EAP program to support members wherever they fall on the mental health spectrum.

While most of the programs are self-guided through a virtual coaching system that includes access to more than 500 short videos on various topics, members also have the ability to connect with a highly trained clinician via text or phone. For circumstances that need more intensive care, the EAP will quickly connect the member with a professional for in-person sessions.

While technology is at the core of the engagement aspect of this program, it’s the science behind the program that’s at the core of its effectiveness. Developed by a team of psychologists and researchers the coaching model is grounded in evidence-based therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and positive psychology. It’s also completely secure and confidential, above and beyond HIPAA standards.

“IBH’s long-term goal is to continue to explore and use technology to deliver evidence-based, easy-to-use services that are desperately lacking in today’s behavioral healthcare world,” said Clark. “This behavioral health coaching model is based in scientific research and development and advanced technology, which makes it a natural fit for our robust managed behavioral health offerings.”

CBT, commonly called “talk therapy,” is proven to be overwhelmingly effective, and the benefits are typically long lasting. Essentially, CBT helps people recognize and retrain negative, unproductive or distorted thought patterns that lead to depression, anxiety and other behavioral health conditions. By integrating CBT methodologies and concepts into the virtual coaching platform, members can safely and effectively reach goals that will improve their health and productivity, both personally and professionally.

IBH’s Behavioral Health Coaching tool also uses positive psychology, which focuses on a person’s strengths and how that positively impacts the individual and the community as a whole. The coaching program leverages this aspect of psychology to help participants set and achieve goals that will have meaningful, lasting results. And those lasting results are good for both the employee and employer.

Mental health problems accounts for $44 billion in company losses every year in the form of absences, lost productivity and turnover, among others. Stress and other behavioral health issues are responsible for one in 10 absences, more than 60% of workplace accidents, and approximately 42% of employee turnover.

But IBH’s Behavioral Health Coaching is working to change that. Early numbers show and 18% reduction in absenteeism in just two months for employees who engage in the programs.

“We ask a lot from our employees, so it’s important that we give them all the support we can,” said Clark. “Providing programs to support their health and wellbeing is one way we can let employees know they are valued, and also help them come out of this unprecedented time stronger than ever.”