You've likely heard the term "oral food challenge" mentioned by your allergist or in online food allergy support groups. But if you haven't, here's a quick primer from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology on oral food challenges:
What is an oral food challenge?
An oral food challenge (OFC), or feeding test, is a medical procedure in which a food is eaten slowly, in gradually increasing amounts, under medical supervision, to accurately diagnose or rule out a true food allergy.
What are the reasons to perform an OFC?
OFCs are usually done when a careful medical history and allergy tests, such as skin and blood tests, are inconclusive. The OFC is a more definitive test because it will show whether the food ingested produces no symptoms or triggers a reaction.
Oral Food Challenge (OFC) Anxiety and Worry:
Given that during oral food challenges you are eating a food that you may potentially be allergic to or have previously been allergic to, it's no surprise that you may feel anxious and worried in anticipation of that appointment - many do. Our mind wants to keep us safe, so an oral food challenge can feel like a potential threat to our mind when we think about it. Therefore, it's normal and appropriate to experience anxiety about oral food challenges. However, it's important to remember that you don't need to interpret that anxiety to mean that the oral food challenge will result in the worst case scenario.
What Helps OFC Anxiety and Worry?
When you experience increased anticipatory anxiety - that is, anxiety about a future event, it can be helpful to prepare for the event in order to to increase readiness and decrease fear.
Here is a brief list of ways to prepare ahead of time for your or your child's oral food challenge:
Additional Resources and Tips to Help Manage OFC Anxiety
Be sure to listen to Episode 13 of Exploring Food Allergy Families called, "Tips for Managing Oral Food Challenge Anxiety & Worry". In this episode, fellow allergy-informed therapist Fawn McNeil-Haber, PhD and I discuss helpful strategies for navigating oral food challenges. We offer preparation tips and guidance on navigating anxiety and mindsets prior to and during the food challenge. Here are specific topics we explore in this episode:
You can listen via your favorite podcast app, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and iHeartRadio. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss future episodes!
ORAL FOOD CHALLENGE PREPARATION WORKSHEETS:
Download these Oral Food Challenge worksheets which help prepare before the appointment, offer helpful reminders for the day of, and prompts for processing after the food challenge. (There are separate worksheets for kids and teens/adults).
You can download these worksheets below or on the Therapeutic Worksheets page here on the Food Allergy Counselor website.
FAWN McNEIL-HABER'S RESOURCES ON ORAL FOOD CHALLENGES:
Hopefully reading this and checking out the podcast, worksheets and other resources offers you some reassurance that oral food challenge-related anxiety is normal and manageable. Don't hesitate to reach out and let me know if these tips have helped you or your patients, or to share tips of your own!
You can connect with me on Twitter (@TherapistTamara and @FACounselor), Instagram (@TherapistTamara) and Facebook (@FoodAllergyCounselor and @TamaraHubbardLCPC).
Thanks for reading!
Since starting the Food Allergy Counselor Directory and website in 2018, I routinely get emails from counseling and psychology graduate students considering focusing on working with those managing food allergies. (And I always take the time to pay-it-forward and chat with these students!)
But I also get frequent emails from therapists who personally and professionally understand IgE-mediated food allergies and want to consider adding food allergy counseling services in their private practices. The top comments and questions I get from these emails are:
A relationship builder at heart, I also take the time to connect with the therapists who reach out to me about food allergy counseling, either informally or more formally through my consultation services. Since I receive common questions in many of these emails, I decided to write a post to share the basic answers. But before I jump into the marketing tips, let's first explore WHY there's a need for food allergy counseling services.
Why food allergy counseling services are needed
Approximately 32 million Americans manage food allergies. While many may associate food allergies with children, rates of adult allergies, including adult-onset allergies are rising. Per this recent study from Dr. Ruchi Gupta and colleagues, almost 11% of adults manage food allergies, with nearly 19% believing they have a food allergy.
No matter the age of the individuals managing food allergies, reports of increased anxiety, and psychosocial and quality of life impacts are common. Here is a brief snapshot of common psychosocial impacts reported:
Additionally, results from this recent survey (of food allergy centers) on the availability of mental healthcare services for those managing food allergies suggests:
These descriptions are brief, but help paint a clear picture of the WHY and NEED for support services from allergy-informed licensed clinical mental healthcare providers.
Now, let's move on to HOW to market yourself if you're an allergy-informed therapist and ready to add the food allergy counseling niche to your practice!
(If you're a therapist that is not well-versed in food allergies, but would like to learn more about them in order to provide support to patients, stay tuned for posts and podcast episodes on this topic).
Marketing Tips for food allergy Counseling
Below are three key marketing tips for allergy-informed licensed clinical therapists, psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists looking to expand their practices to include food allergy counseling services.
#1: HELP CLIENTS FIND YOU BY LISTING "FOOD ALLERGIES" AS A CLINICAL FOCUS
I know this may seem like complete common sense, but I can't tell you how many times I come across a therapist's website with no mention of food allergies as a clinical area of focus, yet, they want to grow within this niche.
At the very least, it's important to mention food allergy counseling or support somewhere on your website. Even if you don't want to dedicate a separate page on your site, or even a description of how you can support those managing food allergies, just listing food allergies in your list of clinical focuses helps clients know that this is a service you provide.
If you do want to describe your food allergy-focused therapy services, here are some ideas to help you with writing about those services:
Taking this tip one step further, it's also helpful to list food allergies as an area of focus on your practice's social media profiles and pages. Again, seems like common sense, but this one is often overlooked, too.
And, if you're good with website management and/or coding, throw some food allergy counseling-related words into the SEO section of your website!
#2: THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX & THEN CONNECT WITH ALLERGISTS
In almost every online clinical mental healthcare provider forum or group I'm a member of, the discussion of HOW to market therapy services to medical practices gets explored. What marketing materials should we drop off or mail (business cards, flyers, rack cards)? Should we spend money on swag and treats for them in order to help our practice stand out?
While these are all personal choices related to how you want to market your practice, here's the advice I will offer on how to market your services to allergists and allergy practices.
Before reaching out, think about what you can offer them - what's the benefit of making a connection with you? While many allergists have started assessing their patients' psychosocial impacts, some may not yet have a clear picture of how allergy-informed mental healthcare providers can benefit them, their practices and their patients.
Think outside of the box here - beyond just being a patient referral source. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Taking this tip one step further - beyond allergists/allergy practices - think about marketing to and networking with local food allergy support groups and dietitians, and if you work with kids, schools and pediatricians. Offer the same kinds of out-of-the-box service ideas in order to help build strong referral relationships.
#3: TO DISCLOSE OR NOT DISCLOSE - THAT IS THE QUESTION
This may seem like less of a marketing tip and more of an ethical practice discussion. But, especially if you've added a food allergy focus to your clinical practice because allergies personally impact your life or the life of a loved one, exploring this consideration is important since clients may inquire.
In our training to become licensed clinical mental healthcare providers, many of us were taught not to self-disclose personal information to clients, or to do so very purposefully and sparingly. So let's explore this topic more in order to help allergy-informed therapists determine where their boundaries are on allergy-related self-disclosures.
Potential Benefits of Self-Disclosing Personal Understanding of Food Allergies:
Considerations When Deciding Whether to Self-Disclose This Information:
Hopefully this piece helped illustrate the need for more allergy-informed clinical mental healthcare providers, and provided a few helpful marketing tips to those who offer food allergy counseling services.
I'll end with a few related follow up thoughts....
Thanks for reading,
One of the most common questions I see being asked within the food allergy community is:
"How do I help my son or daughter with their food allergy anxiety or worry?"
The answer to that question isn't simplistic, as there are likely many factors contributing to the anxiety or worry. But at the core of the answer is the advice to help their child better understand the worry in order to develop strategies to help effectively manage it.
What exactly is worry?
The terms "anxiety", "worry", and "fear" are often used interchangeably. So do they mean the same thing? No, but they are definitely related.
Whereas anxiety typically stems from the uncertainty, unpredictability and unknown about future situations, worry is the thinking part of anxiety. It's what often leads our minds to dwelling on worst case scenarios, the "what ifs", or leads us into a thinking trap known as "catastrophizing".
Whether our worry is triggered by anxiety about the future or fear due to a threat in the here-and-now, it can lead us down the rabbit hole of thoughts. This may then trigger uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations, which often convinces us even more that our worried thoughts must be valid!
What helps to manage worrY?
There are a variety of therapeutic approaches to help people learn to manage or navigate life with their anxiety or worry. Whether through basic psychoeducation, or strategies based on approaches stemming from evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, or exposure therapy, the goals are typically to help people change negative thought patterns, learn relaxation or grounding skills, and change behaviors that lead to the distressing impacts or outcomes.
The Managing Food Allergy Worries Worksheet
The following 3-page therapeutic worksheet was created to help older kids, teens, and even adults begin to address their food allergy-related worries. The goal of the worksheet is to help you identify practical strategies that effectively help you break free from those worry traps. It encourages getting to know more about the thoughts that fuel the worry. It also guides you to notice how the worry makes you feel physically since anxiety and worry often bring on physical sensations that may even trick you into thinking you're having an allergic reaction.
You can download this 3-page therapeutic worksheet below
via Scribd or through the file download option.
[Disclaimer: This therapeutic activity is meant to help understand and manage worries, but is not meant to take the place of counseling. Please reach out to a licensed clinical mental healthcare provider if you feel that your anxiety or worry is impacting your life in a way that feels unmanageable on your own. You can locate an allergy-informed therapist in your state via the Food Allergy Counselor Directory.]
RELATED Helpful Resources:
Thanks for reading,
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