By Song My Hoang
Since November, Kelsey Carroll ’15 has been trained as an active listener for 7 Cups of Tea, which is an online emotional health and well-being support service. The service uses technology to provide anonymous support for people who seek a listener to their problems.
According to 7 Cups of Tea’s website, “Anyone who wants to talk about whatever is on his or her mind can quickly reach out to a trained, compassionate listener through our network. We have hundreds of listeners who come from all walks of life and have diverse experiences.”
Glen Moriarty founded 7 Cups of Tea and envisions that it serves as “a third space to fill the gap in between the two current options (friend or family members and therapy).”
Individuals can connect with a listener by requesting the first available listener, or they can select a specific listener by looking at their profile. The service can be accessed through the website or a smartphone app on a 24/7 basis.
The application to become a listener includes many steps to ensure that every listener is “friendly, considerate and competent.” Every listener completes an online course called Active Listening Training Program to learn “advanced skills for compassionate communication.”
The course also involves teaching listeners how to deal with certain scenarios where they need to refer the person to a professional licensed therapist, counselor or emergency contact.
Listeners have to achieve a perfect score on a subsequent quiz and may be subjected to a background check to ensure that listeners are of high quality.
The 7 Cups of Tea website also includes several guides for mental health issues, which include anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Some of the most popular pages are: “I Need to Vent to Someone,” “Anonymous Chat,” “Why Do I Feel So Alone,” “Suicide Chat” and “How to Get Over a Breakup.”
Carroll was a psychology major before she switched to an anthropology major, and she wanted to continue her interest in psychology by volunteering at this service.
7 Cups of Tea appealed to Carroll because she felt that the experience would be rewarding and meaningful because she would be able to help other individuals.
Carroll stated, “This service will be in high demand within any community. Particularly, college is a transitional period where students are subjected to different types of stress and pressure.”
“Union has a great health center that provides stress-free programs and a therapy dog. Though the members of 7 Cups of Tea are not certified experts, students can still use the service as an additional resource to vent about any trivial problem,” she continued.
Carroll said that students could use 7 Cups of Tea if they do not want to bother their friends with complaints. Students can vent about academic stress, dating or hooking up.
She affirmed that students or any individuals should seek out real treatment facilities if they have serious mental health concerns.
Carroll asserted, “7 Cups of Tea is not a replacement to the Wicker Wellness Center, but it provides supplemental support. It’s supposed to be there for people to vent. It’s anonymous, so you aren’t going to have to feel embarrassed or scared.”
Director of Counseling Marcus Hotaling supports the use of technology as an additional tool to provide emotional support. He noted, “People will receive the best results when they go through a licensed professional. However, sometimes people cannot seek professional help due to their insurance or a social stigma.”
“Therefore, these anonymous, online services could be the first step needed for people to ask for help,” he continued. He explained that there are several benefits and disadvantages to 7 Cups of Tea and other similar emotional support services.
Hotaling said that the advantages to these online services are the 24/7 availability, easy accessibility and anonymity.
However, he said that anonymity could also be disadvantageous to users because the listener’s identity and credentials are not apparent. “Psychologists and social workers go through years of graduate school and training so they have more experience dealing with certain situations,” he added.
Hotaling explained that Union students could tackle mental health problems by normalizing them in their community. He asserts, “Nobody is weak because they are struggling.”
He sees that Union is a fairly social environment, which has allowed students to have peer groups that encourage sharing personal problems. Also, Union has removed the financial cost to taking a medical leave, which helps students become more comfortable dealing with their mental health concerns.
The Wicker Wellness Center has observed an increase in students using its counseling services, with 267 students in 2007-2008 and 536 students in 2013-2014.
Hotaling added, “The ultimate goal of the Wicker Wellness Center is to help students become healthy. We want students to live a healthy life, which consists of a physical, emotional and mental component.”
“Any steps that are being done to address healthy habits will bring a positive energy to campus. It is important to give students tools that they can utilize outside the office. Apps like 7 Cups of Tea are the first steps to encourage students to seek help and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he concluded.