Alright, we’ve all been doing virtual (telehealth) counseling for a while now, and I’ve come to realize some tips that make nutrition counseling sessions successful for clients (this is also what I do when I attend my therapy sessions as the client).

There is some prep work that goes into having a great virtual video session that will make it less stressful for all involved. Here are my top tips for any type of counseling session – and why they are so important!

  • The Timing. Make sure you are booking a time that is not going to create any problems. This means leaving ample time before and after your session so you are not rushing off to something important while emotional and processing, and having at least a few minutes before to think about what you want to talk about, and be in a calm state of mind.
  • Please fill out all forms ahead of your first session, and have a card on file for payment. This makes your session smoother, and you will get the full time to talk instead of going over logistics and gathering info.
  • Come with notes of what you want to cover. Despite how well we know your [eating disorder], we are not mind-readers, and clients don’t always remember everything in the moment. I suggest taking notes throughout the week about what you want to cover/things that come up that are relevant. I keep a locked note on my phone so I can add thoughts to bring up with my therapist at any time and not worry about others reading it.
  • If you are keeping food journals, new diagnoses/medications, or have other documents we need to read, please send them ahead. It can be helpful for us to read them ahead of the session so we know what needs to be covered, and can pull any resources you may need.
  • Make sure we have your phone number & emergency contacts before the session. If there is a bad connection and we need to give you instructions to log back-in, or reschedule, it is important we have a quick way to contact you. Likewise, it is important we have your local emergency contacts – personal and emergency/police, in case something happens while we are on the call. We want you to be safe!
  • Good Wi-fi. This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t check their connection before hopping on a call. 
  • A confidential space (with that good wi-fi). Please, have a space to meet where you can be alone, and not fear your roommate will walk in. It’s hard to relax and open up if you are stressed, and it is stressful for the counselor to not know if anyone else is there. I had a new client who I assumed was alone in her room while we talked. About half an hour in, I realized there was someone else off screen – her mom – that had been listening the whole time! Luckily she was saying “this is what I’ve been telling you!” to her daughter, but it was not ok for her to be there. Please be alone.
  • Lighting. It helps to have light in your space, and ideally in front of you and/or overhead. Being backlit (from a window behind you, for instance) makes you appear like a silhouette on screen. You don’t need anything fancy. Just turn on the light in your room, or have a lamp or window in front of you (behind the computer).
  • Supplies: have water, tissues, pen, and paper on hand for needs that arise. It can also be handy to have your email pulled up in another window in case we want to send you a worksheet during the session.
  • Bring your calendar/be able to pull it up on your phone, so we can schedule the next session. This saves a lot of back-and-forth.
  • Finally, wear pants. Don’t make it awkward. Dress like you are going to the counselor’s office in person. You can be comfy – I don’t care if you wear PJs, but please cover what needs to be covered. You might stand up. On this note, do be sure that we can see a good portion of you on the screen. Body language and visual assessment is so important, so don’t wrap up in a blanket or only have your eyes in view. Let us see at least shoulders-up, and in normal clothes.

Were any of these new to you? These are lessons I’ve honed from years of providing virtual services, and now about a year and a half of attending virtual therapy. I love offering virtual nutrition counseling because I get to work with people in so many locations I otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach. It can be so convenient for those with long commutes, or children at home that can’t be left alone, or those that just feel more comfortable in their own space. Telehealth is not going anywhere, so let’s embrace it and make it awesome! The only downside from my perspective is not being able to give hugs to someone struggling. 

If you are looking for help recovering from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or want help with optimizing your nutrition for your sport/performance, consider reaching out to the dietitians at Not Your Average Nutritionist. We’re here for you.