Online Counselling: Is It Right For Me?
By: Julie Mancuso, Owner of JM Nutrition, nutritional counselling service by registered nutritionists and dietitians
In this post:
How I started as an online nutritionist
Why online counselling works
Benefits of online counselling
Online counselling, also known as virtual counselling, online therapy, virtual therapy, e counselling and a host of other names, has become quite popular in recent months, given impetus by the COVID-19 virus. Although many people have adapted to the new, virtual ways of doing things, some still have not.
So, is online counselling right for you? What are its benefits? Let’s take a look.
How I started as an online nutritionist
The phone call
Some years ago I received a call from a gentleman who lives in the United States inquiring about my nutrition counselling services.
The phone call changed my business.
The search for an online nutritionist
In frustration, the gentleman in question told me that there aren’t any ‘good nutritionists’ where he lived. As a result, he was forced to look elsewhere. I was surprised because he lived in a large metropolitan area in the U.S.
After scanning dozens of nutritionists’ 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. After a couple of exchanges, he decided to take on one of my packages. We agreed to conduct the sessions via FaceTime. We planned the follow-up sessions for 8 weeks (duration of the package), checking in weekly.
Although confident and hopeful, I’d be lying to you if I said he wasn’t the least bit sceptical. After all, having to conduct an 8-week nutrition program without ever having to meet the counsellor seemed a daunting task.
Online counselling success
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.
For well over 15 years I have been counselling 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 counselling works
This first exclusive online counselling session opened my eyes.
I began to think that virtual counselling success is indeed possible, if both parties are fully committed.
After some further reflection, I felt that the online counselling method, too, has a number of distinct advantages over in-person counselling. What’s more, if it worked for one person, why couldn’t it work for others?
A few more online counselling sessions
Shortly after, I ran online counselling sessions a few more times to see if the success could be replicated.
Sure enough, the results were largely the same: satisfied clients.
Although fully aware that any form of online nutrition coaching and counselling 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 counselling 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 counselling I could think of from my few, albeit highly successful, experiences.
I hope that my positive experience convinces other counsellors and their clients to give virtual counselling a good go.
Benefits of online counselling
1. More likely to keep your appointments
The statement I’m making here is exclusively based on my experience with virtual counselling, so it may or may not apply to others. But it does make a lot of sense when you stop and 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, after 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 go home, unwind a bit and let the stress dissipate, you may just regain enough energy to make the appointment. This is particularly true if it’s conducted from the comfort of your own home.
2. Avoid driving in bad weather
And then there’s inclement weather which can wreak serious havoc on the roads, discouraging many people from driving. This, in turn, results in missed appointments. Online counselling effectively eliminates this problem in one fell swoop.
3. Greater privacy
Furthermore, online counselling, nutrition or otherwise, is 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.
Surely, I can sympathize 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 for weight loss, while being ogled by the onlookers in the waiting room.
Without a doubt, some people refuse to seek treatment for this reason alone, finding it impossible to overcome the stigma.
I feel that online counselling would be a blessing for these people. Perhaps doing so would make the decision to seek help a much easier and comfortable one. Maybe more people would seek counselling, period.
4. Alleviated anxiety
Anxiety afflicts many of us in varying degrees.
Some of us manage it quietly, competently and generally unbeknownst to the rest.
Others, on the other hand, 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 number of people who seek the help of counsellors, already carry the heavy burden of anxiety. Subjecting them to unfamiliar environments, new counsellors, gaping onlookers and the stress that comes naturally with having to deal with the health ailment itself can only make matters worse.
Online counselling can put you at ease
If seeing a nutritionist or another health practitioner in person is too daunting a task, then online counselling can put the person at greater ease.
Conducting online counselling sessions from a familiar and safe place can help the person commit to and follow through. This, in turn, can improve the chances of long-term success. And ultimately, that’s the goal, isn’t it?
5. Save time
For many of us time is precious. We’d rather work less and spend fewer hours doing mundane errands. While necessary, doing so reduces 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 manage time better outside of work.
One way to do this is to minimize time spent on running errands and attending appointments, which consumes a significant part of our after-work lives.
If you do online counselling 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. You can easily shave off an hour from your day through virtual counselling. Instead, you can use this time to exercise, help the kids with homework or watch them take part in their favourite after-school activity. You could even just lounge on the couch.
6. More family time
It goes without saying that not all counselling 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 Zoom, can you?
Online counselling, however, works for many people, in numerous situations.
One such instance is multiple-people counselling such as couple or family nutrition counselling that we conduct.
Although much of our counselling revolves around the one-on-one coaching method, we do counsel couples and whole families from time to time.
Gathering a whole family for an appointment to which you have to drive forms a challenge at the best of times, especially when it involves the kids.
The task, however, becomes easier with online counselling. You can simply gather the family in the living room, fire up that laptop, quickly access Skype, FaceTime or Zoom, and voila, your family nutrition counselling is in session. And you didn’t even have to put your shoes on.
7. Benefits the young and the tech-savvy
Moreover, online counselling usually appeals to today’s youth. For this progressive, tech-savvy group, electronic devices and the accompanying apps are seemingly extensions of their bodies.
The youth of today value immediacy and convenience above all. And in all honesty, so do I, at times. I really think that the younger generation is onto 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 young friends on this one, and say, “Yes, it can. And yes, it will.”
Technology can draw people to counselling
Online counselling is ideal for anyone who shares a similar affinity for convenience and technology, especially when it enables access to professional help.
But more importantly, e-therapy alone can draw many young adults to counselling 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 counselling, this burden is eased.
8. Remote location? No problem
Virtual counselling via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, 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 might never seek the help of a counsellor, effectively being unable to deal with the given health matter. For these people the convenience of online counselling offers a solution.
9. Greater scheduling flexibility
Virtual counselling allows greater flexibility when it comes to booking and attending appointments.
For example, a few of my clients work 9 to 5 and have busy schedules after work: kids’ hockey practice, dinner, yoga class, etc. Fitting in a nutrition counselling session can be difficult in such cases, particularly when they have to drive to the appointment in peak traffic.
So, we arrange for a 30-minute follow-up virtual session once every 2 weeks when they are on their lunch breaks at work. Doing so solves the problem of limited availability.
10. Save money
Yes, you can save money by taking advantage of online counselling.
Just think of the money you can save in gas alone. All that driving to all those appointments adds up quickly, costing you money.
This doesn’t even include the costs that you have to incur in cities like Toronto, Mississauga or Ottawa each and every time you have to park your car. I am often horrified when I see the numerous parking fees on my credit card bills at the end of each month. The costs can be prohibitive.
If you’re still sceptical of online counselling, 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 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 counselling a shot to consider the benefits outlined above before discarding the idea altogether.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2020 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.