Growing up, I was always a good listener and I always enjoyed
helping people, said Paula Gomes, who sat straight up in her
chair. Eye contact is very big with Gomes, who meets peoples
gaze not only when she speaks to them, but when she is spoken to.
When I got to college, I took a psychology course and I loved
it, she continued. I just felt like I found my niche.
Carving out a niche at Emory is Gomes next step, and its
one she has only just started having stepped in as director full-time
of the Emory Employee Assistance Program on Feb. 4, taking the place
of longtime director Jean Porter, who recently retired.
The nice thing about coming into this program is that it
is well established, it has an array of services that are already
in place and it has a wonderful reputation on campus, said
Gomes, who prior to coming to Emory managed the employee assistance
program at Georgia State for two years. Before that, she held a
similar position at Johns Hopkins University.
I recognize that there are some big shoes to fill,
Gomes said. My goal is to have as seamless a transition as
possible. My personal challenge is to leave my mark on the Emory
Employee Assistance Program.
The Emory Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is administered
by Human Resources, is perhaps known best by the name of the cozy
office in which it is located: the Well House. EAP runs popular
wellness programs like smoking cessation, fitness and exercise and
Weight Watchers, but also programs as varied as career counseling
and crisis intervention, both at home and at work, fall under EAPs
Not only does EAP handle counseling to individuals, but it can
address concerns of entire departments. The scope is incredibly
wide, always confidential and services are free.
All of this is accomplished with fewer than 10 full-time employees
and clinicians. Staffing will be one of the first things Gomes wants
to explore, she said. She also intends to criss-cross the University
talking to people from every department to find out what their needs
In some ways, theres a clear cross-section of needs,
especially with some of the wellness programs, Gomes said.
But some groups may need stress management programs to come
to their area. There may be a need for general information about
the breadth of services at EAP.
We want to take a look at some strategies to get the word
out about the array of services we offer, Gomes continued.
That may mean going out to different employee orientations,
faculty orientations or staff meetings. Our website is a wonderful
resource of information, but sometimes people dont know about
our services until they need them.
Gomes hopes to expand those services as well. Training sessions
she hopes to explore soon include strategies for effective communication,
balancing work and family, and conflict management and resolution.
A couple other training sessions to be studied are aimed at supervisors,
such as managing conflict in the work place and making referrals
to the EAP.
Communication, obviously, is at the center of Gomes job. She and
her staff must be skillful enough to convince people to openlybut
confidentiallydiscuss their problems, be them at home, school
or work. For some people, talking about their problems over a cup
of coffee is one thing, but confiding in someone with a doctorate
in psychology, like Gomes, is something else entirely.
At many places, theres still a stigma related to mental
health issues, said Gomes, whose large docket of administrative
duties will limit her clinical work, but she will meet with people
on occasion. But what I find is that once people seek out
our service, there is a comfort level. On a university campus, where
there is crossover for students and employees, is when people are
dealing with issues of depression, anxiety, addiction or addictive
Neither Gomes nor EAP handle student concerns (students have their
own counseling center) but she has experience working in student
mental health. In previous positions at George Washington University
and Mount Holyoke College, in Massachusetts Gomes counseled students
coping with a variety of struggles.
Many students are dealing with life-development issues,
Gomes said. Theyre dealing with the challenges of pursuing
self-discovery, issues of independence and social pressures.
Employees, not only at Emory but anywhere, have a different set
hurdles to leap.
They are dealing with a lot of family and relationship issues,
Gomes said. Most people are working a job-and-a-half, maybe
two. How do you balance work and life when you are working so hard?
The key is stress relief. Its something EAP certainly notices.
EAP offers a host of stress management programs ranging from stress
reduction workshops to tai chi and yoga classes.
Gomes is mindful of stress, as well. To unwind, she likes to travel.
A short while back, she drove to North Carolina, just to clear
A native of Connecticut, Gomes has lived and worked exclusively
in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. She joined her husband Nathan
McCall (a lecturer in Emorys journalism program) in Atlanta
in 2000 (he moved down in 1998), and they arent that familiar
with the area yet. Much of her upcoming travel, Gomes said, will
be focused on day trips and short vacations from the big city, just
to learn about the area.
Change, for some people can be very stressful, but its
also very exciting, Gomes said, not showing any signs of stress
whatsoever. She is talking about the transition in here own career,
but her feelings could be applied to most anyone at some point.
Ive spent much of the last couple weeks gathering as
much information as possible and meeting with new people so I can
come up with a strategic plan of how to address the various needs
that have come up, Gomes said. I truly believe in education
and prevention, and this time Ive been spending provides an
opportunity to do some strategizing about how to take the Emory
Employee Assistance Program to the next level.