“7 Cups of Tea” is a site meant to provide a place for people to help others by giving the free but priceless gift of listening. Thousands of volunteer listeners accept chat requests from members of the site and offer a sympathetic ear. Listeners are instructed not to focus on giving advice, but to instead simply talk to the other person from a place of kindness. “7 Cups of Tea” lives out the “pay it forward” mentality by creating a community that listens to and supports each other.
Volunteer listeners stand by ready to receive member chat requests. From the listener page, a banner across the bottom of the screen announces how many members are awaiting a listener. This is called the “general chat,” and from there, listeners can select a member to begin talking with. Members can also message specific listeners individually if they have a preference. In addition to the original one-on-one chat option, “7 Cups of Tea” offers more traditional chatrooms and forums where members can interact with each other and listeners can oversee group conversations, creating a community of kindness.
“7 Cups of Tea” also employs real counselors that listeners can refer members to. Getting counseling through the site requires a fee, but the price is low compared to many more traditional options. Counseling through the site is available to members who are over the age of 18 and starts at $33 a week. Currently, 180 counselors are available for sessions.
For the safety of both listeners and members, “7 Cups of Tea” forbids the exchange of real names or any social media handles. If the system detects certain words in a message — words like “video chat” or “meet up” — it will prohibit the message from being sent. The site also takes care of minors that use the site by having more rigorous certification requirements before listeners can be approved to chat with those under 18. The goal of “7 Cups of Tea” is to foster a safe community, and rules are in place to keep it that way.
People come to “7 Cups of Tea” for a myriad of reasons. Some have serious issues to talk through with a compassionate listener and some just want to pass the time. When a member comes to the site and requests a chat, a bot named Noni will ask them what the reason for their visit is. The drop down list includes anything from “panic attacks” to “loneliness,” and from there, listeners can choose which available topic best fits their experience.
Members are also able to access a list of every listener as well as that listener’s page. Each page includes reviews and ratings left by people the listener has helped. Listeners include a short paragraph introducing themselves and their interests as well as a list of which subjects they feel most comfortable helping with. The pages also feature the number of forum posts and chats individual listeners have posted and helped with. The listener pages provide a way for members to find specific listeners for their problems as well as keep listeners accountable through the rating system.
In order to become a listener, members must take an online course in active listening as well as review the safety protocols in place on the site. The active listening course includes information offered in basic undergrad counseling classes and explains how to ask open questions that encourage members to open up and let it out. At the end of the course, prospective listeners hold a test conversation with a more experienced listener acting as the member. Listeners are urged not to focus on advice, as they are not licensed counselors, but to keep asking questions and offering support.
Volunteering as a listener doesn’t prohibit being listened to either. In fact, more senior listeners are available specifically to those in the listener community to talk through hard conversations with members or anything else the listener wants advice on. Listeners have access to all the benefits of members. “7 Cups of Tea” understands that those who listen to others often need to be listened to themselves.
Volunteers benefit from the simple joy of helping others. The magic of “7 Cups of Tea” isn’t just about the members, or even just about being listened to. “7 Cups of Tea” teaches that kindness and compassion go both ways and that, whether on the receiving end or the volunteering end, people are made better by helping each other. Chatting with members allows listeners to make a difference in the world, individual by individual. A button next to each message allows members and listeners alike to “heart” any message they feel has really gotten through to them, so listeners can see the impact they’re having.
Perhaps one of the best features of “7 Cups of Tea” is its accessibility. The entire experience is online, which means that anyone with access to the internet has access to everything the site has to offer. Those who can’t make it to social events or even a counselor have 24/7 access to a listener. Those who would like a chance to make a difference but who lack the mobility or resources to do so can volunteer their time to helping make lives better.
Whether you’re excited at the chance to help others through the simple act of listening to them or you need to be listened to yourself, “7 Cups of Tea” is worth your time. This simple site has helped over 25 million people and boasts a troop of listeners over 300,000 strong. As the site’s homepage reads, “We live in a world where you can be surrounded by people, but still feel lonely, with nobody to turn to when things get rough,” but “no matter who you are or what you’re going through, this is a place where you’ll be heard and cared for.”