Pharmacies offer counseling to stressed Italians

Kai Ryssdal: Riots, austerity, prospects of default. There's scarce little good economic news coming out of Europe lately. Politicians are saying there's worse to come, so a little stress is understandable. That's why in Rome, there's a new project to take counseling to the people.

Megan Williams reports.


Megan Williams: In a busy drugstore in Rome, pharmacist Andrea Bartole points to a sign taped to the shelf above the counter and reads out the information to a client. It's the number of a free nearby psychological counseling service. A service that for the next several months, once a week, is also offered right here inside his drugstore. Psychologist Sara Eba Di Vaio is the one who approached Bartole with the idea.

Sara Eba Di Vaio: We're trying to reach out to people in distress before they get to the breaking point. Unlike a counseling center, which might intimidate some people, a pharmacy is a safe, familiar place where we can make first contact.

Every Monday afternoon a pair of trained, professionally accredited psychologists stand at a corner counter with a stack of pamphlets. Curious customers can make an appointment for later. Or, they can head to the small room in the back here for a free half-hour session of counseling.

Psychologist Eduardo Ercoli says the center decided to offer the service when he and his colleagues notice a rise in job-related stress.

Eduardo Ercoli: Many people talk about how under pressure they feel with the economic crisis and all the media coverage that's scaring them. There's a lot of fear and uncertainty that gets transformed into general anxiety.

Sara Eba Di Vaio says the initiative is also a way to promote psychology as a profession in a country she calls populated by charlatans and people taking pills for problems that might better resolved by talking.

Eba Di Vaio: Obviously, this effort is also a way to market psychology, to guide people towards counseling -- but legitimate counseling with trained professionals.

Pharmacist Andrea Bartole says he sees the psychologists as an extra service he can offer his customers, not as a threat to his businesses.

Andrea Bartole: We're two pretty different professional spheres. We fill prescriptions for drugs whereas the psychologists help people talk through their problems. So no, they don't take business away, if anything they help business.

Each Monday, he says, he sees three or four people have a session in his back office. Throughout the week, he gets dozens of requests for information -- from people like this woman, who's just left the pharmacy with a pamphlet in hand. She says the service can be useful to a lot of people.

Woman: I can think, for instance, of old people when they feel depressed all they get given is pills, might be more helpful and also less expensive them to have a good ole talk about it.

Williams: What about you? Are you going to visit these psychologists?

Woman: Definitely!

She's not alone. With more and more Italians worried by the county's economic climate, the service is already spreading to other cities across Italy.

In Rome, I'm Megan Williams for Marketplace.

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