In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, I often encounter clients who choose to spend some or all of the time in a counselling session ‘venting’. This typically involves complaining about difficult people and/or situations affecting them.
Given that people pay to see psychologists and that psychologists are ethically obligated to attempt to ensure that clients are benefiting from their services, it is reasonable to consider whether venting is a productive use of time in therapy. A related concern is whether it is beneficial to the client to vent to people other than their psychologist outside of therapy sessions. I will explore these questions in the following paragraphs.
Benefits of venting
It can feel good to have someone listen empathically as you express your frustration and anger about a difficult person or situation. Feeling that someone gets how you are feeling can make it easier to deal with the person or situation.
Getting your frustrations out of your system can also make it easier to take productive steps to deal with the person or situation so that you are less frustrated going forward. In that regard, a supportive listener you can vent to will often give you good advice regarding how to deal with the person or situation effectively.
Downsides to venting
Venting can often lead to rumination in which the person repeatedly expresses the same frustrations regarding the person or the situation without taking steps to cope with matters. Rumination can leave the person stuck in a cycle of expressing anger and frustration which only serves to make them feel worse.
It also taxes the patience of the supportive listener you are venting to as they see that you are only adding to your distress by venting about the same frustrations. This kind of venting can preoccupy the person to the point that they also get away from doing activities which are good for their mood.
Putting limits on venting: Get the benefits without the downsides
Putting limits on how often you vent and how much you vent each time is a good way to ensure you get the benefits without the downsides. A good indicator of whether venting is reasonable is whether you have expressed your frustrations about the person or situation to a particular individual already. If you have not done so, then venting may be reasonable and potentially beneficial for the reasons cited above. If you have already done so, then you are likely entering ruminating territory and should consider limiting your venting to that person.
Please note that limiting venting to a supportive listener does not mean that you should not bring up the frustrating person or situation to the individual going forward. Rather, these circumstances suggest that relatively more of your discussion should focus on how to cope with the frustrating person or situation rather than on how frustrated you are. This focus on coping strategies will help to lessen your frustrations about the person or the situation so that you will have less need to vent about them.
May you do your venting in moderation,