You can lower the cost of an employee-assistance program by joining a group of small companies that have banded together to get a better price for services or to create their own program. Ask nearby chambers of commerce or your industry association about such consortia.

If you're shopping for providers, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association will refer you to members in your area. The organization has also developed a set of standards to live by. Though it's stiffly worded, the EAPA's $15 booklet will give you good criteria by which to judge providers. To order it, call the EAPA at 703-522-6272.

* * *