Grab a Bag of Doritos in Aisle 5 Before You See Your Therapist at Walgreens

Jeff Guenther on Sep 05, 2021

CVS, Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid are all offering therapy in their stores or online. What? Okay, I was not expecting this one, but sure. The pandemic continues to throw the mental health industry curveballs.

In January, CVS added therapists that perform cognitive behavioral therapy in stores located in Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. You can grab some therapy for a walk-in appointment or schedule one in advance. Pay with insurance or out of pocket. They slide as low as $69 for a 30-minute sesh.

Walmart provides therapy in Arkansas, Illinois and Florida. You can see someone in-person for $1 a minute. The faster you talk, the cheaper it is. That’s kinda fun! Walmart has recently acquired MeMD, which offers online medical and mental health care.

Walgreens offers their customers a therapist or counselor over the phone or through telehealth via BetterHelp or Sanvello. They’ll even give you an online mental health screening if you’d like.

Rite Aid is offering teletherapy in “virtual care rooms” inside their stores. Rite Aid locations in Idaho, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia will offer these services.

Therapy in all these stores makes sense when you think about how much mental health has been booming since COVID spread across the globe. CVS, Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid all have pharmacies inside of them that already cater to our healthcare needs. Adding mental health may be a no-brainer since the demand could be at an all-time high.

What does this say about the mental health industry?

It’s really difficult and confusing for the average person to figure out how to find a therapist that has openings, accepts their insurance, is affordable, has the expertise to treat their issue and also feels comfortable to talk to. Personally, I might tell that person to start their search at, but even that can be overwhelming for some. Our industry is not straightforward. And because it can be an overwhelming journey for people to find therapists (reaching out one by one to counselors that may or may not be a good match is a tedious process), it's understandable that some retail outlets and tech companies are trying to make the experience easier.

The reason Walmart and CVS or tech startups like BetterHelp and TalkSpace may continue to grow and take over the mental health industry is because they have tons of money and resources to throw at the problem with the goal of simplifying the counseling experience. While I imagine there are people with clinical experience guiding decisions at these massive companies, I also imagine they are motivated by their bottom line and shareholders that might not have quality care at the top of their priority list.

BetterHelp and TalkSpace are incredibly problematic for the mental health field, but they’re firing on all cylinders and growing at rapid paces. Who’s to say therapy at drug stores won’t take off and provide subpar or dangerous care to vulnerable clients?

I will say that besides the few articles announcing that these stores have started providing counseling services, I have not been able to find anything on the internet about client experience. Here’s hoping that good, ethical work is being performed.

We don’t know if these counselors, social workers and therapists are meeting the needs of their diverse communities. We don’t know if the counselors can competently treat the LGBTQ or BIPOC communities. I don’t know how much these therapists are being paid. We know that BetterHelp and TalkSpace don’t pay much at all. I hope the drug stores pay more.

How is this a good thing?

I’m all for making therapy more accessible and this is a step in the right direction. Honestly, if you can plop down in front of a therapist while picking up some hot Cheetos and nail polish, then that’s not a bad thing. Therapy is being placed right in front of some folks that might never have thought to check it out. Some of these stores, like Walmart, are incredibly popular in smaller towns. Some folks visit Walmart on a weekly basis, so it would be easy to make a weekly appointment with your Walmart counselor.

Seeing mental health services offered at your local Walgreens has the ability to fight the stigma that’s attached to therapy. Seeing therapy offered at more places helps to normalize it in communities that may not be very open about their mental health issues.

So far, it seems like all the drug stores are only offering short-term therapy. Sometimes short-term therapy is all a person needs. A lot can get done in a short amount of time with solution-focused treatments. If long-term counseling is recommended, then more referrals might be given out to local therapists that have practices in the area. Ushering people into long-term therapy that need the help is a positive.

The future is unclear

Only time will tell if therapists running their own practices will get gobbled up by tech companies and big drug stores. Nobody in this industry has figured out what the future of therapy is going to look like. But a lot of companies and startups with different ideas are battling it out. Therapists across the country have not been able to band together and take on these new giants that are entering our industry. If we don’t figure out how to work together in order to save our industry while making it easier for clients to find a therapist, we may get taken over by these big and savvy companies. If we lose the battle, I personally hope that my local grocery store, Fred Meyer, hires me on as head therapist only because I am partial to their in-store sushi bar.

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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