How did the pandemic impact mental health services and treatment offerings? Which strategies did you have to rethink and reassess? Does virtual treatment work for clients and clinicians? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini reviews virtual treatment as a post-pandemic successful recovery strategy with Heather Russo.


In her role as Chief Clinical Officer for Alsana, Heather Russo is responsible for nurturing the growth and success of our clinical treatment teams and maintaining the integrity and efficacy of our Adaptive Care Model®’s Therapeutic Dimension. Heather has served as a clinician and clinical leader in eating disorder treatment for 15 years. Most recently, before joining Alsana in 2020, Heather served as the Regional Assistant Vice President of a multisite national eating disorder treatment provider where she focused on clinical consistency and the implementation of evidence-based practices. Heather has been a chair of several well-known associations, including the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, Los Angeles Chapter. Visit Alsana and connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


  • Issues for higher care
  • Rethinking strategies
  • Virtual treatment does work

Issues for higher care

As a result of the pandemic, a huge backup occurred in higher care facilities where there was not enough space or staff to admit everyone that needed help.
We had waitlists that we couldn’t accommodate and … that was brutal … recognizing that we had to change the way that we were approaching clients because the things that we were ordinarily asking them to reach out for support weren’t available to them [anymore]. (Heather Russo)
Usual helpful and healthy recovery strategies like eating with a friend, going for a walk, becoming busy with work, or reaching out to loved ones because much less viable after the pandemic hit.

Rethinking strategies

We had to in some ways almost recalibrate what our expectations were … [so] how do you recreate some of [those strategies] … how do you incentivize someone … with outings when there’s no such thing as outings? (Heather Russo)
As a result, clinicians and mental health providers had to brainstorm and temporarily change their approach to treatment to help their patients continue to heal their eating disorders, despite the turbulence that the pandemic caused.

Virtual treatment does work

Virtual treatment does work. Due to the sudden and desperate need over the pandemic, clinicians made virtual treatment work and it continues to help many patients recover from their eating disorders, even post-pandemic.
We have to be data-driven because we have to be honest with ourselves about what’s happening because we can have a felt sense that people are getting better, but unless we’re collecting good clinical data, we can’t really be accountable to our clients. And so, we’ve done just that, and we’ve continued to see tremendous outcomes. (Heather Russo)



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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