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Your Guide To Virtual Counseling Part I: Telephone Counseling

Technology is enhancing our ability to counsel people in many new and different styles from the standard in-person counseling sessions. With the increase in computer and phone technology, counseling can be taken to other levels via phone, email, chat rooms, online forums, and more. This three part series will take a look at the various aspects of virtual counseling starting with the oldest form: phone counseling. Read on to learn more. – Sarah

How to set up phone counseling sessions:

Have a contract. Develop a package contract that includes a set amount of counseling sessions. State in the contract what the sessions include: length of time, number of sessions, and time between sessions.

Get a deposit. When setting up the contract and the appointments, get a deposit or pre-payment for the sessions to cover at least the first 1-2 sessions. Use an online form of payment such as PayPal or use an in-house credit card machine. Many iPhones are now being used to accept credit card payments.

Sign a HIPAA agreement. Remember to email/fax the client a HIPAA agreement prior to the first appointment to establish and set a privacy rapport and have them email/fax it back.

Phone counseling has many perks:

Remote Access. Accommodate clients who are unable to come to an office for a visit whether they are immobile, have difficulty commuting due to disabilities or lack of transportation, are constantly out of town due to travels, or who are physically located in another city or state. Phone counseling can allow a counselor to assist clients all over the nation and truly help the masses.

No office required. Phone counseling can allow a counselor to work from any location (as long as the location is quiet and conducive to speaking with people via phone). The lack of a need for an office can save money which can result in less overhead cost for the counselor and potentially less expensive counseling sessions.

Some of the challenges with phone counseling can be:

Lack of body cues and facial expressions. Non-verbal cues can offer a lot during a counseling session such as demonstrating a client’s engagement with the discussion or readiness to change. Phone counseling sessions do not allow us to view the client’s body language. Therefore, the importance of the non-verbal cues rely on listening to the tone in the voice.

Potential for uncomfortable silences. In counseling, at certain times, silence is accepted and embraced to allow a client time to reflect or gather thoughts. Silence during phone sessions can seem to last a lifetime. Remember to allow the client time to speak between pauses. Do not feel the need to fill-up the “empty space” during the phone call.

No physical demonstrations. Many nutrition counselors use props and food models to show clients correct portion sizes and recommended food brands. Phone counseling only does not allow this option. Therefore, combining phone consultations with internet sites where the counselor and the client can look at an online food guide together can assist with this visual challenge.

Stay tuned next month for Part II of Virtual Counseling tips: Email Counseling. Part III will discuss Skype/Webinar counseling.

Sarah Koszyk is founder of Family. Food. Fiesta. A family-based wellness program and blog focusing on recipes, family health tips, and videos with kids cooking in the kitchen. She is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach specializing in sports nutrition and adult and pediatric weight management. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn.

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