Lots of us come to therapy thinking that we’re going to vent. We’ve got something difficult on our mind, something not just annoying or sorrowful but confusing and frustrating, and we need to just talk it out. We figure that venting will help.

So is venting effective? Does it help?

Of course it does–sometimes. When it’s a way to explore a complex tangle of thoughts and feelings within a safe relationship, then it’s effective. When it’s a way to rehearse our complex to ourselves, to strengthen unconscious patterns of disconnection, then it’s not. Then venting is stasis, or even entropy.

We need to vent when we’re tired. Frustrated. Confused. On the verge of just drop kicking the whole mess, whatever it is, out the door.  We need to vent when something we’ve tried to change just won’t budge. When we’ve finally noticed that what we’ve been trying just isn’t working.  At that point, there’s a hidden choice: between growth/connection and fear/avoidance.

To be honest, when we get to this place, we may not be steady enough to see that choice, though it’s there. All we know is, we want our mixed up crap to change. And by change, we mean we want it to transform–from pile of confusing goo to a feeling of stability, of contentment, of awesome. There’s good news here: despite the confusion, we have enough energy to cast about for solutions, venting being one of them. We’re not doing so bad after all.

Honestly, it’s a natural impulse, this impulse to vent. We all need to vent sometimes. But there’s two sides to the process (at least): a healthy side, oriented towards growth, and a shadow side, oriented towards avoiding change and compounding misery.

How will we know which way we’re headed? How will we distinguish the need to connect from our fear of connection?

The truth is, we won’t know until you give it a shot and start venting.  And once you’ve started, you can trust yourself: you’ll feel the difference.

Just by trying–just by venting–you’ll open up to the chance for connection, and with connection, a reduction of fear, frustration and confusion. Just by talking it through you’ll be telling yourself that this pile of goo isn’t so gross that we can’t deal with it all. We can at least explore it. We can at least take a guess at what it’s really made of. We might mistake one thing for another, true; we might have to explore this pile for a few sessions, a few weeks, a few months. But whether we’re moving towards growth or avoidance, we’re already doing better than just stewing in fear and confusion. Reaching out for connection is already medicine for the part of us that feels so mixed up in the first place.

As your psychotherapist, I will always make room for venting. I’m not going to shut you down. But as you vent, I will gently turn us towards consciousness of the choice point between venting as exploration and venting as stasis. I will do so because therapy, ultimately, is not about venting off steam and then going right back to generating more of it; it’s about growth, about transformation, about healing, about your Great Work, whatever that might be.


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