National School of Journalism (NSoJ) Bureau, Bangalore: Anonymity is generally considered detrimental in the cyberspace. However, 7 cups of tea, an online emotional support service is a place where anonymity gives power to people going through emotional distress. It allows the user to anonymously connect with trained listeners and share their feelings without fear of any shame or stigma.
“Through a secure, anonymous bridging technology, we connect those in need of emotional support with our network of active listeners: individuals from all walks of life who want to provide compassionate care. Connections to listeners are private, one-on-one conversations initiated on demand. 7 Cups aims to provide a kind, listening ear to everyone in need across the world,” says Twisha Anand, Director of Operations at 7 Cups. “We believe that in this world of billions, no one should feel alone in their struggles,” she adds.
India is 7 Cups’ third-largest market, after the USA and the UK. 7 Cups has over 1.6 lakh volunteer listeners from 189 countries who engage in over 4 million conversations each year. “Since the connections are not segregated by country, people from India can support people from the USA, or Egypt, or Turkey. Similarly, people from India can seek help from listeners from Australia, or UK, or Canada,” says Anand.
At 7 Cups, active listening is encouraged. It is a set of communication skills that demonstrate empathy, compassion, understanding, and respect. Active listening is different from the normal listening we do in our everyday conversations. Instead of just ‘waiting to talk’ once our conversation partner stops speaking, active listening requires that the listener completely focus on absorbing, comprehending, and reflecting what the speaker is saying.
Manasij Sen Sarma, a listener from India thinks that in a society which constantly judges you, anonymity to discuss one’s problems is a blessing. “As a listener from India, I have received a number of cases, and not just from Indians. I remember various instances where people who have been through tumultuous emotional and physical abuse have visited the site for help,” he said. In a majority of these cases, people were over 25-years. “This only goes to show that kids are not the only ones who need counseling,” Sarma adds.
But can this be qualified as counseling? Although listeners are trained well for active listening, there is only so much one can do online to help the troubled individual. 7 Cups can’t be treated as a substitute for mental health treatment by a licensed professional. The listeners at 7 Cups are there to listen to an individual and help them affirm their options and the ability to make their own decisions. However, they provide online therapy on a monthly subscription basis for people who need professional help.
Sarma often keeps in touch with the people who speak to him. On the site, they can request him personally by his username. According to him, they often come by to talk about their progress, as they feel that they can trust him. “People come in here with high levels of repressed emotions and baggage. These people are working adults. I’ve seen them break before me and the trust they put in me is unfathomable,” says Sarma.
What started off as a discussion between a husband (Glen, founder of 7 Cups) and his wife has now transformed into this safe space for people who just want their stories to be heard. 7 Cups of Tea is actually the name of a famous Chinese poem. The idea is that each cup of tea provides a step of healing. It is like sitting with a friend with a cup of tea.
7 Cups of Tea, by Lu Tong
The first cup kisses away my thirst,
and my loneliness is quelled by the second.
The third gives insight worthy of ancient scrolls,
and the fourth exiles my troubles.
My body becomes lighter with the fifth,
and the sixth sends word from immortals.
But the seventh—oh the seventh cup—
if I drink you, a wind will hurry my wings
toward the sacred island.
Translated by Christopher Nelson