When I first started to volunteer with Vent Over Tea, I had the same questions that many people do when they first hear about us: What is Vent Over Tea? What happens during a vent session? And, what happens after? The short answer is that this is different for everyone; the long answer is that the concept of our vent sessions depends on two imperative elements: a sense of intimacy and no prior relationship or necessary follow-up. Sounds contradictory, right? Let me explain.
You arrive at a cafe of your choice – maybe you’ve never been before, or maybe it’s your favourite – and reserve a coveted table. The line at the cash register gives you just enough time to wonder what exactly you’re getting yourself into. What will it be like? What do I say? How will my session go? Will I be able to talk about what I’m feeling? How am I going to be able to talk about my life with a stranger in the middle of a cafe?
But the line moves quickly, and before answers come, you order your drink and sit down. You meet your listener or ‘ventee’ – the volunteer who you’ll be meeting with – and after a quick introduction, the floor is yours.
So, what’s next? Well, we’ll usually ask you what you’ve come to talk about; if you mentioned anything specific when you booked your appointment, that’s usually where we’ll start. Ultimately, volunteers are here to listen to you talk, vent, cry, or process whatever it is that’s on your mind. What we talk about is entirely up to you. And if you get nervous or run out of things to talk about? That’s okay! It happens to everyone. After all, comfortable silence is a huge part of building intimacy.
Of course, you don’t have to do all the talking if you don’t want to. Volunteers are happy to jump in and help you work through a tough thought or idea. At the end of the hour, we wrap up the session, sometimes with a summary of what we talked about or sometimes any questions that we may have. I’ve ended many sessions with small talk; sometimes it’s easier to transition out of a session with some lighter conversation. So, we say our goodbyes and both of us go on to do whatever it is that we do in our daily lives. And that’s it. Yes, really.
Montreal can seem like a small world, and occasionally venters and listeners will run into each other outside of our cafe-context. If this happens, don’t feel pressure to acknowledge us! We understand that opening up about your experiences can be a very personal process, and that many people don’t want others (especially the people that know them) to find out.
That’s the great thing about Vent Over Tea – you can get empathetic support from a peer without having a personal tie to them. No strings attached. If you do run into a listener and want to wave or say hi, definitely do so! But if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s fine too. We’ll always let our listeners take the first step, so do what you’re comfortable with and we’ll follow suit.
Having been both a venter and a listener, I have learned so much, but for me, what I love about Vent Over Tea is that a vent session provides peer support in a casual, no-pressure environment. Opening up can be unnerving, especially if you’ve never done so before. If you’re contemplating reaching out to someone, hopefully this gave a helpful glimpse into our process. But if you have any other questions about Vent Over Tea, or just need cafe recommendations (Cafe Aunja is a personal favourite), feel free to ask – you can leave a comment on our blog, or reach out via the contact page on our website. After all, that’s exactly why we become volunteers: to listen, to provide support, and to foster connections between people.