Humanist Hope said 9 years, 5 months ago:

The Rules of being a Listener

I am not a perfect Listener. Such a person does not exist. We are all human, and we are prone to mistakes, and to repeating the dumbest of them. It is through my experiences, my mistakes, and the pleading of a fellow Listener looking to better himself that I was inspired to sit down and devise this set of rules.

It is our greatest aspiration as Listeners; to follow these rules, to help people and to help ourselves, but keep in mind that we are all human, and we will find ourselves in violation of these rules at some time or another. The goal is to minimize that as much as possible.

Listen, Learn, and Teach.

~Jonathan, @blackholehead

The Prime Directive: It Is Not About You

Listening is a hard job to take on, and as Listeners, we voluntarily take it upon ourselves to, on top of our own lives and issues, take on the issues of the Venter and attempt to impart whatever unbiased wisdom we may possess concerning their problems.

This is the essence of peer counseling, and it is true that helping others does help us to help ourselves, in the end, it is not about just ourselves; peer counseling is about helping each other.

The Principle of Positive Regard

Three words define the great Listener: unconditional positive regard.

People come to BlahTherapy for help. Though it is true that sometimes people need “tough love” and I have been in the place of giving that tough love, all advice given should always be with unconditional positive regard for the Venter; they are a human being and they can improve themselves if they set themselves to the task, most of them are here because either they do not believe in themselves or because nobody has believed in them.

As Listeners, it is on us to believe in the ability of the Venter to make themselves better, to take them at their word, give them the benefit of the doubt, and to show them that it is entirely possible for someone to believe in them.

Negative regard achieves absolutely nothing. It is impossible to shame or degrade a person into improving. Negative regard does nothing more than communicate negativity, and the Venter likely already feels badly enough about themselves. Some Venters’ issue IS that they have no faith or positive regard for themselves!

Show the Venter unconditional positive regard, and you will not only make their life that much easier, you will become a better Listener.

The Persistence Principle: One And Done Is Never Enough

As Listeners, we hear about every terrible act of which mankind is capable, and this can take its’ toll on us, but it is important to remember your Venters, to treat them as people, this means following up.

We must always give our Venters the space they need to open up willingly to us, but we must not become lax. Reach out to your Venters, ask them how they are doing, ask about their lives, their experiences. We are social creatures, so help your Venter socialize.

The Principle of Validation

It is often said that the best advice-givers are women. Why is this?

Men, it is said, are too direct, too to-the-point, too logical, too harsh. Whereas women are gentle, understanding, and nurturing.

Certainly there is some truth in that, but there is an underlying core fact that is overlooked: women validate emotions more often than men.

As Listeners, it is imperative that we help our Venters get to the bottom of their issue, to understand clearly what is wrong so that they can resolve it, but it is that heedless pursuit of the ends that makes some of us overlook the means. The Venter has emotions, and those emotions are relevant. Treating a Venter in such a way that ignores their emotions conveys a message that how they feel is irrelevant, which makes the Venter feel irrelevant, because their emotions are a part of them.

Take time with each Venter to consider how they must be feeling, then openly acknowledge it to them, validate their feelings. Do this, and your Venter will feel better about themselves, less invisible or unnoticed. It is that unnoticed, alienated feeling that has given rise to an entire group on BlahTherapy! Validate your Venter, and it will help them trust you.

The Know-How To Network; You Are Part Of A Group

BlahTherapy has many Listeners from all walks of life, this is a good thing, but it can have some drawbacks. Listeners often forget to work together!

If you are feeling overwhelmed, out of your depth, or if you have been Listening too much and need to handle your own affairs, you are absolutely allowed to let the weight off your shoulders and relax. Any burden, no matter how small, becomes unbearable with enough time.

Stay in contact with others Listeners, and when necessary, refer your Venters to another Listener while you make sure that you (the Listener) are taken care of. Sometimes a Listener needs to vent!

When you are taken care of, you are better able to take care of others.

The Informative Listener

The more informed a Listener is concerning an issue, the more potential they have to be helpful.

Knowledge is your friend, Listeners! Read, correspond, and debate your knowledge. Sharpen your mind and refine your wisdom. When you are commanding knowledgeable advice, you are being that much of a greater Listener.

Stockpile folders of information to pass on to Venters, provide the Venter with links to help inspire them to learn as well. Practice explaining things in lay terms to help the Venters understand.

It is recommended that every Listener have a readily-available list for reference should a situation be found to be beyond the scope of peer counseling.

The Informative Listener is a trusted Listener.

The Penultimate Point: We Are Peers, Not Professionals. Know When To Back Off.

There comes a time for every Listener when we run across a problem that cannot be solved by peer counseling.

We are not doctors, know when to back off. A peer counselor cannot help an unmediated schizophrenic. In cases where an issue exceeds the bounds of peer counseling, we redirect the Venter to professional services in the form of suicide hotlines, shelters, or even emergency numbers.

As under The Informed Listener, It is recommended that every Listener have a readily-available list for reference should a situation be found to be beyond the scope of peer counseling.

And Finally: Know When To Let Go

There is nothing stopping Listeners from becoming friends with their Venters, if that happens, then enjoy it! New friends are one if the spices of life.

That being said; every Listener loses touch with Venters. People move on, people change or change their minds. Though we become emotionally invested with some Venters, we cannot let their loss stop us from helping others!

No matter what happens, Venters and Listeners, never let anyone or anything stifle your will to live happily. You deserve the same chance at pursuing your happiness as anyone else. Most importantly, never forget that you matter, and you are not alone.

Confidentiality Amendment

Though we are not professionals, and legal confidentiality therefore cannot apply to us, it is in the spirit of trust that a Listener keep their discussions with the Venter and their issues confidential.

As with “The Know-How To Network”, it is vital that Listeners share information so that the greatest quality of peer-advice is passed on to the Venter. Therefore, when discussing issues, omit any identifying information.

As a rule of thumb, only share the following:


(Addendum: if you feel that I have left out an important aspect of great listening, please do not hesitate to drop word and I will update the list. )

Will_BC said 9 years, 3 months ago:

can someone point me in the direction of a list of resources we should use when we’re out of our depth?

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 3 months ago:


My apology for the delayed response. I took some time off from BlahTherapy to de-stress. I’ll get to assembling a general list of resources to which Listeners can refer.

It is encouraged for Listeners to also conduct their own research and compile their own information, as well as share any information they have accumulated.

I’ll get back to you soon.

Levi-UR said 9 years, 3 months ago:

thank you for posting these guidelines. It certainly helps to know that there is a general outline for appropriate behavior. My only question is about confidentiality, I know that as listeners we are peers not professionals but I wonder what the guidelines for confidentiality should be. Personally I am of the belief that listeners should hold some form of confidentiality but I am unsure what the exact nature of it should be.

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 3 months ago:

When it comes to confidentiality, no names or dates are to be disclosed. Content of conversations and the gender of the venter are the only things that are to be shared.

This allows Listeners to discuss content of the issues between each other and protect the confidentiality of the Venter.

Marcus said 9 years, 3 months ago:

This is an awesome list!

Levi-UR said 9 years, 3 months ago:

@blackholehead Edit: sorry. Only parts of the conversation that relate to the discussion. Basically you can’t summarize the entire conversation and put it in a forum post. But one or two lines that don’t reveal anything are another matter. Sorry if I wasn’t clear earlier.

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 3 months ago:

Less verbosity and more clarity, if you please.

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 3 months ago:


Listeners can share situations and outcomes:

Advice given. No identifiable mention.

placid pancake said 9 years, 2 months ago:

I’d like to add a suggestion if I might, it’s something that I’ve done so far and I’m quite new.

If you give advice over chat, keep a log of it for yourself. What I have done is set up an email account specifically for this site, and I will copypasta the conversation into an email, with the subject stating the date.

This way if you have repeated conversations, you can refer back to it with ease, plus if you are for whatever reason accused of giving or saying inappropriate advice, it protects you, as you have a log of the entire conversation.

Hope this helps anyway, it is important for us to help ourselves as well.

Logseman said 9 years, 2 months ago:

I would suggest Evernote or a similar alternative if you are a very frequent listener.
Every chat can be a note (which you can tag, categorize, etc. at will) and it allows you to search inside them. It’s always nice when you can refer to a former conversation which went well and extract lessons for new venters.

shivam j gandhi said 9 years, 2 months ago:

Can I add that if there seems to be no way to comfort the venter at any point, just making small talk and discussing the venter’s lives that don’t include the topic that is bothering them works? I have done this with people, and it seemed to temporarily get their mind off of what was bothering them. Although it might not be the best tactic, it is a good fallback in case the venter seems to really be perturbed by the problem at hand. This also isn’t a guaranteed way to comfort the venter in every situation, keep this in mind.

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 2 months ago:


Correct. This falls under The Penultimate Point.

CelticCowboy669 said 9 years, 2 months ago:

As much as I agree with you, I must disagree. The entire Philosophy of “positive reinforcement” does nothing but pollute the mind, and encourage negative habits. Sometimes, you have to be firm, in order to grant the softest landing. Feel free to dismiss me, I wouldn’t know anything, the M.A. proves this.

Humanist Hope said 9 years, 2 months ago:

There is such a thing as a negative application of positive reinforcement, but sticking strictly to the point, it reads “Unconditional Positive Regard“.

If you give the Venter any indication that you hold any negative regard for them they will be less likely to open up to you and be honest.

Do not confuse the two. Positive Regard is not hand-holding and babying. It is simply regarding the Venter positively.

In closing, don’t presume that people will dismiss you. It doesn’t lend very much credit to your conviction, Sergeant.