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Gestalt Therapy: The Empty Chair Technique

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Gestalt: an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt therapy focuses on you as a whole, interconnected with your environment, relationships and experiences. Emphasis is placed on the here and now, rather than what was, might be, or should be. The goal of gestalt therapy is to help you become aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it. Then, it helps you see how you can change, while also learning to accept and value yourself.

What’s With the Chair?

A key method used in Gestalt therapy is the Empty Chair Technique. This simple approach is designed to allow you to work through interpersonal or internal conflict. It helps you see the situation from a different perspective and gain insight into your feelings and behaviors.

Here’s what it looks like:

You sit facing an empty chair. In the chair, you picture a person with whom you are experiencing conflict. Or, you may picture a part of yourself. Then, you speak to the empty chair. You explain your feelings, thoughts, and understanding of the situation.

Now things really get interesting. After you’ve shared your side of things, you move to the other chair. Then, you respond to what you just said, from that person’s perspective, taking on their role. You may move back and forth between the chairs several times to continue the dialogue.

Meanwhile, the therapist explores this communication with questions and insights as the situation unfolds.

How Can an Empty Chair Help Me?

Using this technique helps bring you into the “here and now” of your present experiences. As you verbalize what’s going on, the abstract becomes more concrete. As you take on the other person’s role, you gain insight into your own perspective as well as theirs.

If the chair represents part of you or an internal conflict, you experience different aspects of yourself and gain insight into your struggle. This discovery aspect is the ultimate goal of gestalt therapy and the empty chair technique.

Established by Fritz Perls, Gestalt therapy has been widely used by therapists since its inception in the 1940s. It’s hard to say how many empty chairs have provided compelling communication over the years. From high-backs, to rollers, to spindled wooden stools, clients the world over have spilled their guts to every type of seat imaginable. The technique has proven to be a powerful tool for understanding and insight.

 

Image Source: iStock

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