In select cities, you might run into someone with an unusual sign: “free listening.” Founded in Los Angeles by actor Benjamin Mathes, Urban Confessional is based on the idea that people just need someone to talk to, as Co.Exist reports. The organization recruits volunteers to stand in public spaces and offer to lend an ear to anyone who wants to unload something, whether it’s happy news or a heartbreaking tale.
The service is similar StoryCorps—the service that records interviews with average Americans about their lives—but there’s no record of these conversations. It’s a short, free form of talk therapy, albeit one with a stranger without any expertise in mental health treatment.
Urban Confessional organizes Free Listening Day, an annual event in dozens of cities in the U.S. and abroad. For those who want to volunteer more than just once a year, Urban Confessional has a guide [PDF] to facilitating intimate conversations (and staying safe as a volunteer) with strangers.
Even in the age of social media, plenty of people are lonely, and researchers now consider this a major public health issue. Meanwhile, while talk therapy is considered an important treatment for depression (though not a universally effective one), mental health treatment can be expensive and isn’t accessible to everyone. A stranger who listens to your problems for ten minutes on a street corner is no substitute for a mental health professional. However, in the absence of any care, it helps to be able to unburden yourself every once in a while, to someone who doesn’t know and won’t judge you.