Curbside counseling can help | Opinion

By Dorothy Dworkin

Special to the Sun Sentinel

Jun 11, 2021 11:28 AM

Dorothy Dworkin

Dorothy Dworkin (Dorothy Dworkin / Courtesy)

In the 1950s, my neighborhood pharmacist was the go-to person for health-related mini-crises. If I was not home and got something in my eye, I went to Doc Datz, the neighborhood pharmacist, to have it removed.  We called him “Doc” although he was not a medical doctor.

One Sunday afternoon, my 3-year-old fell while playing. Mr. Datz cleaned him off, put disinfectant on the scrapes and reassured me that it was not serious but suggested I check with my physician on Monday.

Often, when I, or a family member, had a rash, irritation, stomachache or headache, we asked our druggist for an over-the-counter solution. When explaining prescribed medications and their side effects, he would be the one to give a full, easy-to-understand explanation. It was almost always a “he” in those days, although now, the professional is just as likely to be a “she” or “they.”

Over the years, the neighborhood pharmacy expanded and its shelves filled with cosmetics, toiletries, greeting cards and eventually even groceries. Pharmacies became the places for flu shots and, more recently, COVID-19 vaccinations. Chain drug stores opened in shopping centers and small neighborhood pharmacies went the way of dinosaurs. The chains filled prescriptions and explained medications but offered even more than drug stores. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to learn that certain CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart and Walgreens stores were now offering mental health counseling.

This stress-filled year has spawned more than its share of mental health issues. For some folks, therapy and counseling have become necessary to help cope with the challenges of COVID-19. Finding and affording a mental health professional can be daunting, especially in areas where therapists are scarce.  Then, too, the cost is often prohibitive and not always covered by health insurance. The average person doesn’t necessarily need long-term, intensive psychotherapy. Sometimes, too, there is a stigma attached to acknowledging the need for help.

Enter the pharmacy-based counseling center. CVS hired licensed, clinical social workers in some of its locations. The mental health professionals are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to intensive Freudian psychotherapy. They work in Minute Clinics available either by walk-in or appointment. Hours are flexible and they can assess, refer, counsel and provide non-emergency services. Costs are lower and covered by some insurance plans. Other large pharmacy retailers are interested. Some grocery chains with pharmacies inside their facilities are also addressing the need for mental health services and are considering their place in the schematic.

In the private sector, a potential client usually interviews the counselor before treatment begins. The same standards for choosing a therapist holds for walk-ins despite the different setting. Questions about training, licensing, specialties, cost and privacy of information are still relevant.

In one of my “lives,” I was a licensed social worker in an outpatient facility. Many of my clients did not require long-term treatment and were helped by short, supportive, cognitive-behavioral education. For more complex issues, they sometimes needed medication and in-patient treatment. Qualified therapists are able to recognize the difference between serious situations and clients who just need reassurance and support.

Present pharmacies still fill prescriptions but are on their way to becoming even more than drug stores. What’s next? Any guesses?

Dorothy Dworkin is a freelance writer and writing teacher in Boynton Beach.

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