Workers facing sack offered telephone `crisis counselling' crisis counselling

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Employers are giving workers and their families telephone call-cards offering 24-hour counselling on problems ranging from imminent redundancy to lottery "addiction".

This latest product from one of Britain's boom industries, crisis counselling, has been taken up by companies including Cornhill insurance, which is offering the service to 400 head office employees. Companies provide plastic cards with which employees and their relatives can contact an ex-directory, independent crisis exchange.

In some cases the companies are about to make redundancies. Other employers use the service to cut sickness and absenteeism. One of the main organisations involved, Nottingham-based Lancaster Associates, estimates the annual cost of emotional problems for a company employing 10,000 people is pounds 1.3m.

In a booklet for employees of client companies, Lancaster says they can seek counselling about almost anything. "It doesn't have to be of world- shattering importance. Here are some examples of the sorts of problems people ring us with:

t """My wife's mother is driving me mad but I can't talk to her about it";

t "My youngest son is spending all his pocket money on lottery tickets and I'm scared he is going to get hooked."

Some organisations, however, have balked at the idea of using the service. A proposal to give town hall workers in Aberconwy pounds 7-a-year call cards so they could dial counselling services during local government reorganisation has been shelved.

There is also concern about so-called psychological de-briefing. Psychiatrists say there should be more trials to see if such counselling works.

Three Australian specialists reported in the British Medical Journal that after an earthquake, there was less improvement among those who were counselled than those who were not.

They say one reason for the increasing popularity of counselling may be a "symbolic need for workers and management to assist those who suffer and to show concern".