By: Julie Mancuso, JM Nutrition
Online counseling, the beginning
Some months ago I received a call from a gentleman who lives in the United States inquiring about my nutrition counseling services.
The phone call changed my business.
In frustration, the gentleman in question told me that there don’t seem to be any ‘good nutritionists’ where he lives—despite the fact that he lives in a large, well-known metropolitan area in the U.S.—leading him to search elsewhere. After quickly scanning dozens of nutritionist websites from all across the United States and Canada, he stumbled upon mine. According to him, he was drawn to the website because it ‘spoke’ to him. I couldn’t help but feel flattered, even though I never met the man.
Soon after, we connected, and after a few exchanges, he decided to take on one of my packages. We agreed to conduct the sessions via FaceTime, checking in once a week for 10 weeks, the duration of the purchased package.
Although confident and hopeful, I’d be lying to you if I said he wasn’t the least bit sceptical having to conduct the entire 10-weeklong nutrition program without actually ever having to meet the counselor.
But his doubts were quickly allayed because he began to lose weight—one of his primary goals—soon after he started to work with me.
His confidence and enthusiasm grew.
Immediately following the successful completion of the 10 virtual nutrition sessions, he lost considerable weight, had more energy and felt satisfied with the whole online counseling process, despite some initial uncertainty.
For 15 years I have been counseling people from all walks of life, finding a good deal of success along the way. But the clients and I would always meet in-person at least once or twice during the course of the program. And here we did it all—and successfully so—from the comfort of our own couches.
Online counseling works
This first exclusive online counseling session was an eye-opening experience.
I began to think that virtual counseling success is indeed possible, if both parties are fully committed.
After some further reflection, I felt that the online counseling method, too, has a number of distinct advantages over the old-fashioned in-person counseling, and that if worked for one person, why couldn’t it work for others?
Shortly after, I decided to run online counseling sessions with a few more clients to see if success of my first online experience could be replicated.
Sure enough, the results were largely the same: satisfied customers.
Although fully aware that online coaching and counseling existed before my personal success with it, I still felt that I was really onto something. I felt I could achieve the same level of success whether I conducted the nutrition counseling sessions online or in person.
With inflated confidence, I sat down, pen and paper in-hand, and decided to jot down all the advantages of online counseling I could think of from my few, albeit highly successful, experiences.
I hope that my positive experience goes a long way in convincing other counselors and their clients out there to give e-counseling a good go.
You’re more likely to keep your appointments
The statement I’m making here is exclusively based on my experience with virtual counseling, so it may or may not apply to others. But it does make a lot of sense when you stop to think about it.
Checking in for a 30- or 60-minute appointment becomes much easier when done from home. You can do it virtually at any time, even from your bed, requiring little or no prep time whatsoever. You don’t have to get dressed, hop in the car and drive, park the car, and so on. As a result, you’re less likely to run so late for the appointment or miss it altogether.
And then there are those people who at times, after enduring an exhausting and draining day at work, simply don’t want to have to deal with another errand on their plate. And so they cancel. Who can blame them?
But, if you are given the chance to go home, unwind a bit, let the stress peter out, you just may regain enough energy to check in for your online counseling appointment if it’s conducted from the comfort of your own home while you are sipping a drink of your choice—and by drink I mean tea, of course.
And then there’s inclement weather which, in many parts of Canada and the United States, can wreak serious havoc on the roads, discouraging many people from driving, resulting in missed appointments.
The beauty of online counseling, whether nutrition or otherwise, lies in the fact that it’s discrete, allowing for maximum privacy for those who seek it.
I can certainly understand that. Some people feel a sense of embarrassment having to deal with personal health matters out in public. I can surely empathize with the dreadful feeling that can overcome a person when walking into a wellness centre office, having to declare that you’re there to see the nutritionist—the weight loss specialist—while the onlookers in the waiting room ogle with unabated curiosity.
I’m sure some people refuse to seek treatment for this reason alone, finding it impossible to overcome the stigma.
I strongly feel that these same people would find the private nature of online counseling a blessing, undertaking the decision to seek help with greater comfort and ease.
Anxiety afflicts many of us to varying degrees. Some of us manage it quietly, competently and generally unbeknownst to the rest, while others find it a monumental challenge to function under its crippling weight, simply choosing to avoid unpleasant tasks rather than having to suffer the uncertainty brought on by anxiety.
A substantial percentage of people who seek the help of counselors, and not just nutritionists, already carry the heavy burden of anxiety without having to be subjected to unfamiliar environments, new counselors, gaping onlookers, and the stress that comes naturally with having to deal with the health ailment itself.
If seeing a nutritionist or another health practitioner in person is too daunting a task, then online counseling can put the person at greater ease.
Conducting online counseling sessions from a familiar and safe place can help the person commit to and follow through with ongoing sessions, improving the chances of long-term success. And ultimately, that’s the goal, isn’t it?
Time is precious
For many of us time is precious. We’d rather work less and spend fewer hours doing mundane errands which, while necessary, reduce the time we can spend with our loved ones or enjoying our hobbies.
So the question is how can we maximize this time?
Well, we can’t exactly hand in our resignations at work or ask our bosses for reduced hours. It’s just unrealistic.
But what we can do is maximize our time outside of work. One way to do this is by minimizing time spent on running errands and attending appointments, which consumes a significant part of our after-work lives.
If you’re receiving online counseling from your home, you don’t have to drive to the destination of the appointment, park the car–something that can be a bit of a nightmare in the city, wait for the appointment, and then drive back home. Doing so can easily shave an hour off our day, a time during which we could be exercising, helping our kids with homework, watching them take part in their favourite after-school activity or just lounging on the couch.
It goes without saying that not all counseling can be conducted via the online method. Sometimes you just have to attend appointments in person. You can’t exactly receive a chiropractic adjustment via Skype, can you?
Online counseling, however, works for many people, in numerous situations.
One such instance is multiple-people counseling such as couple or family counseling.
Although much of my counseling revolves around the one-on-one coaching method, I do counsel couples and whole families from time to time. Assembling a whole family for an appointment to which you have to drive forms an arduous task at the best of times, especially when it involves the kids. The task, however, becomes easier with online counseling where you can gather the family in the living room, fire up that laptop, quickly access Skype, FaceTime or Zoom, and voila, your family nutrition counseling is in session and you didn’t even have to put your shoes on.
The youth must be served
Online counseling also appeals to today’s youth or millennials. For this progressive, tech-savvy group, electronic devices and the accompanying apps are seemingly extensions of their bodies.
The youth of today values immediacy and convenience above all. And in all honesty, so do I, at times. I really think that the millennials have got something here.
Why would anyone choose to spend more time accessing a service than necessary? Isn’t the time saved and then allocated towards more leisurely activities worth it? I side with my millennial friends on this one, and wholeheartedly say, “Yes, it can. And yes, it will.”
Online counseling is ideal for anyone who shares a similar affinity for convenience and technology, still requiring the services of a professional, ahem nutritionist.
But more importantly, e-therapy alone can draw many young adults to counseling who may be reluctant to do so the old-fashioned way: by physically having to be there to receive it.
This is great news for parents who would like to see their children use a certain service, but find it a struggle convincing them to make and attend the appointment. With online counseling the burden is eased.
Virtual counseling via FaceTime, Skype, phone or some other means, can also benefit those people who do not have easy access to services because of where they live. People who live in remote locations or rural areas do not have the same luxury of choice with regard to various services as those who live in larger cities.
On account of the distance factor many people who live in such areas might never seek the help of a counselor, effectively being unable to deal with the given health matter. For these people the convenience of online counseling offers a solution.
If you’re still sceptical of online counseling, I completely understand. Like with everything else, challenges exist. For a long time, I doubted the whole thing, too, and never really gave it a go for that reason. But my relatively recent experience with online nutrition coaching has changed my mind. After personally realizing that effective sessions can indeed be conducted online, I encourage all those who would like to give virtual counseling a shot to consider the benefits outlined above before discarding the idea altogether.
Have you taken part in online counseling, either as the counselor or client? Please share your experience in the comment box. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch.
Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic Toronto nutritionist who has been counseling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.