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January 2011



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By Summer Beretsky 

There’s no question about it — airing a complaint and getting it off of your chest can be relieving. Letting a secret or a complaint sit inside of us can hurt.

The word “vent” calls forth images of air, smoke, or steam escaping through an opening from a confined area — like carbonation from a soda bottle.  It’s no surprise, then, that we describe ourselves as feeling “bottled up” when we’ve got something major to vent.

And now there’s a new way to do it online at blahtherapy.com.

BLAH Therapy’s premise is simple — it’s a chat website designed to let you twist that proverbial soda bottle lid anonymously and seek a release of pent-up steam.  Once you arrive at the site, you’re prompted to play the role of either “Venter” or “Listener”.  As a Venter, you’re given the floor to talk about anything that needs to be released from your mind. As a Listener, your job is to, well, listen.

Unlike the popular random webcam chat site Chatroulette, BLAH Therapy won’t pull up any potentially indecent video streams from your chat buddy.  It’s entirely text-based.

I first read about the service on Mashable this week, so I decided to test it out right away both as a Listener and a Venter.  For privacy purposes, I obviously won’t disclose the chat log for the scenarios in which I chose to be the Listener – I don’t want anyone’s presumably private venting session to become public.  I will, however, paraphrase the types of problems I ran into.

At first, when I logged on as a Listener, I had a hard time finding anyone who was willing to vent.

Stranger  hi
You hi there


Despite my best efforts at greeting them with a friendly hello, I was quickly bypassed. Similar scenarios continued for several minutes, so I changed my mind & decided to play the role of Venter.

You Hi
You Is anyone there?
You I’d like to vent, and stuff.
You But it takes two.


You Oh hi!
You Is anyone there?
You I know you’re technically supposed to be a “listener”, but I’d like it if you could at least acknowledge that you’re there. And that you’re listening.
You Anybody? Anybody at all?
You Okay.
You I guess not.


You Hey there
You So, here’s my vent: this is the fourth time I’ve connected to a “Listener”, and it seems like no one is there.
You It’s true: I’m venting about venting.
You Meta-venting, if you will.


Of course, as Blah Therapy grows, I imagine this situation won’t be as frequent. In fact, only 14 people were chatting yesterday when I ran into the above problems. At the moment I’m typing this, there are 155.

I decided to switch back over to the role of Listener and I found a real live human being — of course, my anonymous partner was also so excited about finding a real live chat partner that he didn’t start venting right away. Instead, we exchanged some small talk, joked about how we hope BlahTherapy doesn’t turn into Chatroulette, and then we started the process. My chat partner was excited to play the role of Venter — he said that in real life, he’s the Listener within his group of friends, so being able to vent was a valuable thing for him. I sat back and listened to him rant about a friendship that’s under stress because it’s also part of a work relationship.

Earlier today, I also successfully connected with a few people while playing the role of Venter. We started off with some small talk, and then I chose to lament about how there’s barely any time in the day for relaxation when I work for 8 hours, commute for 2 hours, and sleep for 8 hours. My listener asked a few probing questions to determine if it was really my schedule or my job that I was frustrated with:

Stranger  and what would your ideal job be
You Hmmm. Ideal job. Probably freelance writing.
Stranger  are you writing right now?
You Yes, actually.

During my next venting session, I decided to launch right in without making small talk. True story, by the way:

Stranger  hi
You So, I was at the train station in Philly and I’d just gotten a hot cup of tea.
Stranger  …
You I sat down on a bench to tie my shoe, and I set the cup down on the bench right next to me.
Stranger  …
You This woman comes along, completely unaware of her surroundings and she bumps right into me & the hot tea…and when I say “hot”, I mean boiling.
You I’d just had it poured.
You Spills all over me.
Stranger  that sucks
Stranger  was it a starbucks?
You I stood up, screamed at the top of my lungs (unintentionally, pretty much) and EVERYONE stopped to stare…but the woman just kept walking.
You Nope, Cosi.
Stranger  $4?
You Probably.

Humorous conversation, but less therapeutic than some would like. (And the burns are all cleared up now, if you were wondering.)

Is BLAH Therapy something you should consider playing around with? Well, it depends on who you are and what you’re looking for. Let’s look at the pros and cons:


• You can let loose and get complaints of all shapes and sizes off of your chest. The strangers don’t know you and you never need to interact with them again. If someone starts to judge or reacts in a way you’re uncomfortable with, you can click “Disconnect” and find someone else.

• It reminds me of Postsecret, in a way, because it can be an outlet for letting go of secrets — which when bottled up can cause distress.

• For some people, listening to the problems of others is therapeutic in and of itself.

• It’s good when venting to a friend isn’t appropriate (say, if the situation is about your friend).


• The listeners are NOT mental health professionals, so heed any advice cautiously — perhaps in the same way you’d take advice from, say, a friendly single-serving acquaintance from the checkout line at the grocery store. Be smart. They’re everyday people who, like you, merely have an interest in either venting or listening.

• You never truly know if an interaction on the internet is private. Chatroulette, for example, is an “anonymous” (yes, the quotes are necessary) website where users can chat with strangers via both text, webcam, and audio. However, YouTube user PianoChatImprov recorded his now-famous Chatroulette interactions, edited them together, and posted them to YouTube (NSFW due to language, but brilliantly creative and absolutely worth watching). There’s no real guarantee that a Listener will keep your venting session private.

• There’s also no guarantee of getting a legitimate chat partner, but that’s what the “Disconnect” button is for.

• Just because the site is text-based and somewhat safer-feeling than Chatroulette, it doesn’t automatically follow that all participants are going to follow the rules and keep things PG.

And, before you venture off to start listening or venting, here are some tips:

• It’s difficult to play the role of Listener without stepping in to do some venting of your own. In fact, it’s near impossible — so no matter which official role you choose on the website, you’ll be playing a little bit of both roles.

• For the courtesy of the Venter, make sure you’ve got at least ten minutes to spend as Listener. Most vents aren’t quick little Twitter-ish blurbs in 140 characters or less. Real empathy takes some time.

• I found it difficult to play the role of Venter without exchanging at least a few niceties with my anonymous partner. If you feel the same sense of awkwardness, try making small talk first.

• Check out some of PsychCentral’s resources — like Guidelines for Good Listening — if you want to brush up on your listening skills first.

Bottom line: if venting helps you to feel better, and if anonymous (and sometimes unpredictable) interaction sweetens the deal, you’ll have fun playing with BLAH Therapy.

Do you think that anonymous chat is an effective method for releasing pent-up steam? Does anonymity help us to express our feelings more? Give it a try and let us know how your venting or listening session went in the comments.

Source:  http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/05/02/feel-like-venting-to-a-complete-stranger-try-blahtherapy-com/

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