Would You Try Talking to a Stranger Instead of a Therapist?

A new mental health app matches you with a random listener who wants to hear your problems

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We know that talking about our problems-even just venting about the morning commute-makes us feel better. You might commiserate with a colleague over a deadline, rant to a friend after a bad date, or schedule a session with a therapist after a tough event in your life. But would you tell a stranger? That's the idea behind Kindly, a new app that matches you with a stranger to anonymously chat about your issues. (Don't want to talk? See 10 Ways Writing Helps You Heal.)

The app lets you choose from 15 topics of conversation-from marriage/divorce to traumatic experiences to health/wellness-that might address whatever's bugging you. To get an outsider's perspective, you simply request a chat and wait for Kindly to match you with a listener. You've only got 15 minutes to talk it out though; after that, the app ends the conversation for you, and prompts you to send a friend request if you want to continue your conversation.

"Sometimes people need advice but don't feel they have the right person in their life to talk to," says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley and co-instructor of UC Berkeley edX course The Science of Happiness. For some, the app could be a vehicle to develop a feeling of community, which science has shown to make us feel better, she says. Whether the advice you get through Kindly is helpful or not, it can be validating just to know that other people are hearing you, Simon-Thomas explains. The limitation of the app is, of course, the anonymity of the users giving you advice and the potentially arbitrary-not professional-responses.

The app lets you know up front that this is not a crisis hotline and does not provide therapists, so if it's serious or urgent, seek the help of a professional. (See 5 Digital Coaches to Help You Reach Your Health Goals.)

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