Articles are available for reprint as long as the author is acknowledged: Domenick J. Maglio Ph.D.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


By Domenick J. Maglio PhD. Traditional Realist

Almost all of us have had days where everything seems to go wrong. On these occasions it makes us feel better after blowing off steam. This is especially true when things go wrong due to no fault of our own such as missing a flight due to an auto accident that backed up traffic, a power outage that ruined plans for dinner or a myriad of other incidents beyond our control.

However, there are many times we create our own problems. We failed a crucial test because we chose to party instead of study. Our sweetheart broke off the relationship after discovering an affair. We spread a false rumor about a co-worker and she was fired. Throwing a fit when we caused the problem in the first place does not solve anything. Stupid behaviors have negative consequences no matter how much a person raves, screams, rants or projects his actions onto someone else. Yet there are mental health catharsis groups that encourage members to express their thoughts and feelings to assist them in resolving their difficulties. 

 The reality is too often venting group participants cause other members to have a difficult time distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Group members are taught to be non-judgmental leaving the patient believing he is free to do whatever he is proposing. He normally perceives the group’s silence to be an affirmation of his destructive thought process. It can be a dangerous therapeutic approach when the therapist does not have the professional inclination to rapidly assess the mental status of the client.

Starting a group therapy session by going around the circle questioning each member with something similar to, “How are you doing?” begins a contest in outdoing the others in the group. Each one tries to show how his life is more difficult or “messed up” than anyone else in the room.

This exercise inadvertently is conditioning participants to be consummate complainers. It also makes the member’s lives appear bleaker than they really are. Being more “messed up” than the next guy becomes the emphasis/ the contest. A client learns to take a positive and make it into a negative while embellishing it. It shows the group how clever the client is. The member’s creative complaining dialogue becomes the focus of the group

The approach does not help the participant to use better strategies to resolve his problems. Instead it increases the number of perceived unresolved issues in the person’s life. This venting process often weakens, not strengthen the mental health of the individual.

When the therapist hears a client working himself into a frenzy she could intervene to point out a constructive strategy in dealing with the particular problem instead of sitting back in a passive, non-directive role. The therapist’s silence is often seen as a confirmation that the patient’s thought process is valid.  This perceived validation by the counselor only stimulates the client’s “woe is me” narrative.  The other group members laughingly encourage the patient to continue his pathetic negative self-talk.

Venting does not solve the problem of the individual. Hitting pillows, squishing balls, punching bags, screaming into a pillow does not decrease anger but increases it. Brad Bushman, PhD’s., research in 1999 at Ohio State University has debunked the myth of catharsis effectiveness in decreasing serious anger issues. His research found catharsis type therapy is less effective than sitting quietly or meditating.

The catharsis of venting does give temporary relief although in the long run it feeds the anger without dealing with the underlying problem. The constant complaining eventually pushes one or two of the more clear thinking people away. Through smiles and laugher, most of the group frighteningly legitimizes the bizarre thoughts and hostile actions. These rants are usually not confronted by the therapist who is often trained not to intervene.  This is outrageous because many of these mentally unbalanced people wind up exploding, hurting innocent people as we have seen time and time again in the media.

Mental health comes from learning how to overcome obstacles, not through a group egging a person on. This griping type approach does not produce possible options to solve one’s problems. This is not therapeutic, it is an incubator for mental weakness and eventual full blown disease that can disastrously result in many innocent victims being harmed.

The legitimizing of these artificial grievances in the head of the patient often leads to aggressive acting out behavior. The patient has now moved from verbal venting to physically acting out. This has serious implications for public safety.

Venting type therapy may be somewhat of a benefit to people with mild functioning difficulties but is a dangerous approach with individuals that have serious psychiatric issues. Therapists who use this method should be held professionally accountable if clients are inappropriately placed in the group or do not take precautions to insure a patient is sufficiently mentally stable to be released into the general population.

Dr. Maglio is an author and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at


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