Yes, you need to act professionally. Yes, you need to know what you’re talking about. Yes, you have to have passion.
But none of those three things, in my opinion, are the single most important thing you need to succeed as a counselling dietitian.
So what is the one oh so elusive skill that all aspiring dietitians need to master?
Active & Effective Listening!!!…
If you were to ask “Andy, what Is number one piece of advice you would give to someone about to start a counselling rotation?”
What I would probably say is learn how to listen.
In my mind, there is no more challenging and important skill to master.
You have very limited time to learn as much as you can about your client and their goals and if you don’t listen effectively, you will run into problems.
Why do I say that?
As dietitians we are so proud of our expertise in the area of nutrition that we can hardly restrain ourselves from sharing it at any and every opportunity.
In reality , our ability to listen and react to our clients specific needs is just as important as our grasp over any given subject matter.
If you go into a session with too strong a notion of the points you want to get across. without acknowledging the unique needs of your patient/client, you are missing out on the most important aspect of dietetic practice, which is to provide those you are helping with 100% personalized nutrition guidance.
In other words, don’t just tell them something they can read somewhere online, craft your guidance to ensure it is fully applicable to their lives.
How do you do this?
First and foremost, always let your clients/patients finish their thoughts.
Never cut in just because you THINK you know where something is going or because you can hardly restrain yourself from dropping some knowledge.
Sit back and let them speak in full, and believe me I’m sure some of you have already found this particular skill quite difficult to master.
Next, you should ALWAYS relate your guidance to their specific goals first and not necessarily your goals for them ( even though yes, you will have goals for them that need to be addressed!).
In order to do this I recommend you start your session by asking your client their goal in seeing you and truly listen to what they have to say.
Make sure you repeat their goal back to them so you have a mutual understanding and they know you will provide them with exactly what they are looking for.
If you truly understand their goals and motivations, you can always relate your guidance back to that goal.
I could say ” I want you to eat less cheese”
I could say ” I don’t think eating cheese in the amounts you are currently eating it is supporting your goals”
Which do you think will resonate more with a client?
The next thing you need to realize is that just listening is not enough.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a family health team intern was that I would just “listen” to the patients/clients.
I would listen intently to their concerns , listen to their diet history but then when it came to formulating a plan of action, I would struggle.
The reason for this is that just listening is not enough.
With every word a client says you need to be taking that information in and processing it, while assessing its relevance to the client’s ultimate goal and the plan of action you intend to suggest.
Don’t just take a diet history, assess it ( in your head) every step of the way while you take it down so that when that client is done speaking, you already know your actionable points.
In my opinion, one of the hardest parts of dietary counselling is moving from the client’s turn to speak, to your turn.
The more efficiently and effectively you do this, the more it will show your client that you are fully engaged in their cause.
So the take home message today is: Listen intently to what your clients have to say but also make sure you understand it, acknowledge it and process it at the same time.
Believe it or not, what they have to say to you is more important then what you have to say to them.
If you focus on listening effectively, it will make you a better dietitian.
I hope this was at least somewhat insightful!
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH