A Listening Movement on the Sidewalk

Guest Blog By: Tracie Ruble*

As a licensed psychotherapist, I had an idea: ‘What if I take my therapist’s chair outside on the sidewalk to ask “What is going on?”’ in an effort to understand the gun violence that was on the news every other week. In May of 2015, 28 San Francisco therapists did just that and Sidewalk Talk was created.

When we first started out, our initial goal was to normalize talking to someone about the ups and downs of life and make therapists visible in the community. Now, Sidewalk Talk has evolved into a listening movement that firmly believes we are all responsible for one another’s mental health. We aim to teach people how to be effective listeners and compassionate community members so we can all show up and support one another. We teach people how to be listeners and empower them to start Sidewalk Talk chapters in their own cities. To date, we have over 400 volunteers globally, including in Canada, Portugal and South Africa, and chapters in the U.S. from California, Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Washington, D.C. We have listened to more than 1,000 people and referred hundreds to no-fee and low-fee mental health resources.

In the last few months I have seen a spike in bullying, racism, sexism and general divisiveness in our global communities. Sidewalk Talk has decided to get more active in these turbulent times because the world is always going to be unpredictable, but how we take care of each other allows us all to rise up together with our mental health intact. This April, Bay Area listeners will travel and listen alongside volunteers in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

We want more people to get trained in effective listening. We want this project to reach people in their homes, workplaces and communities in those unexpected moments where how we listen matters. Therefore, I am creating three online listening training courses for anyone who wants to learn and practice better listening in their marriage, with their kids or at work for a small donation to our project. I am also speaking at this year’s Wisdom 2.0 conference to 2,500 Bay Area leaders and at the San Francisco Public Library on January 24. If you want me to talk to your team reach out and I will make the time.

Mental health workers alone cannot heal all that needs healing in our communities. Mental health is a team effort and Sidewalk Talk is a vehicle for the community to make mental health a reality for everyone.

Watch this two minute video for a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of a Sidewalk event. Anyone can be a volunteer listener and we ask chapter leaders to be mental health workers. Volunteer here.

To learn more about Sidewalk talk click here.


Traci Ruble is global director of Sidewalk Talk. She is also a licensed psychotherapist, wife and mother and runs a psychotherapy clinic in San Francisco and mental health magazine called PSYCHED Magazine.

*Guest blog: Each Mind Matters provides a platform for open dialogue and varying perspectives about mental health. The opinions of the author of guest blogs don’t necessarily reflect those of Each Mind Matters. If you have questions or comments about a blog written by a guest writer, we encourage you to continue the discussion with the author by contacting the organization listed in the bio.