Gestalt Therapy: The Empty Chair Technique

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The Empty Chair Technique is a therapeutic practice within Gestalt...

The Empty Chair Technique is a therapeutic practice within Gestalt therapy, where an individual engages in a dialogue with an absent person or part of themselves, represented by an empty chair. This method serves a core purpose: to facilitate self-awareness and resolve internal conflicts or unfinished business. By allowing clients to articulate their feelings, thoughts, and perceptions in a structured yet imaginative setting, the technique aims to bridge gaps in understanding and emotional well-being. Through this direct and poignant form of communication, individuals can confront unresolved issues, fostering a profound sense of clarity and reconciliation.

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and self-awareness, focusing on the individual’s experience in the present moment. It uses techniques such as the empty chair to facilitate awareness of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in the ‘here and now.’ The goal is to help individuals learn to accept and trust their feelings and experiences, enabling them to find healthier ways to deal with life’s challenges.


Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, “Gestalt therapy has been effectively used by therapists to manage various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance use, PTSD, relationship issues, and low self-esteem.”

What Is the Empty Chair Technique?

The empty chair technique is a therapeutic approach used in Gestalt therapy that encourages clients to explore and express their feelings towards an imaginary person or an aspect of themselves. The idea is to have a conversation with the empty chair as though it were occupied by someone else or another part of themselves.

This helps the client gain insight into their thoughts and emotions. The therapist may guide the client through this process, helping them articulate their feelings and then use the empty chair to promote dialogue, possibly leading to resolution or acceptance of their experiences.

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What Is the Empty Chair Technique Used For?

The empty chair technique is used in Gestalt therapy to address unresolved issues, conflicts, and emotions. This could involve the client having an imagined conversation with someone they have an issue with, or it could be used to facilitate dialogue between different parts of the client’s personality.

By externalizing these internal conflicts or their unresolved feelings and emotions, the client can gain insight into their feelings, explore different perspectives, and work towards resolution. This technique can be especially effective for clients dealing with grief, guilt, resentment, or anxiety.

As Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD, says, “The empty chair technique is traditionally used for resolving conflicts or dealing with unresolved emotions but can be used for other purposes. For example, some therapists use it to help clients explore future scenarios, using visualization and projection for self-exploration and goal setting.”

What Does the Empty Chair Symbolize?

In Gestalt therapy, the empty chair symbolizes the ‘other’ in a conversation or the various parts of oneself that need to be addressed. This could be a person from the client’s life, an unresolved situation, or different aspects of the client’s identity. The technique allows the client to project their thoughts, feelings, and experiences onto the empty chair, enabling them to gain a new perspective. This symbolic use of the empty chair method encourages introspection and helps the client better understand their emotions and reactions.

This simple approach is designed to allow you room 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.

a woman overthinking and having repetitive thoughts

Here’s what it looks like:

  • You sit facing an empty chair. 
  • In the empty chair dialogue, 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. Explain your feelings, thoughts, and perspective of the situation.

Now things get really interesting. After you’ve shared your side of things, you move to the other chair.

  • 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.

The Therapist’s Role in Guiding the Empty Chair Technique

The Empty Chair Technique, a pivotal aspect of Gestalt therapy, offers a unique pathway for clients to explore unresolved emotions, conflicts, and internal dialogues. The therapist’s role in this process is multifaceted, requiring a blend of expertise, empathy, and active facilitation to guide the client through the therapeutic journey. Here are the specific actions therapists take to facilitate the dialogue and provide support:

  • Create a Safe Environment: The therapist establishes a space where clients feel safe and supported, encouraging openness and vulnerability. This environment is crucial for clients to freely express their thoughts and emotions during the technique.
  • Introduce the Technique: Therapists explain the purpose and process of the Empty Chair Technique, ensuring clients understand its goals and how it might help them gain insight into their feelings and behaviors.
  • Guide the Dialogue: As the client engages with the empty chair, the therapist actively listens, offering prompts or questions to deepen exploration. They might suggest exploring specific emotions, conflicts, or aspects of the relationship or self that are being addressed.
  • Encourage Perspective-Taking: Therapists support clients in shifting perspectives, especially when taking the position of the other chair. This helps clients explore different facets of their conflicts or internal struggles, fostering empathy and understanding.
  • Facilitate Emotional Processing: Throughout the dialogue, therapists help clients process the emotions that arise, guiding them toward expressing and understanding these feelings.
  • Provide Insights and Reflections: Therapists offer reflections on the dialogue, highlighting patterns, emotions, or thoughts that emerge. These insights can help clients gain new perspectives on their situation or behavior.
  • Support Closure and Integration: After the dialogue, therapists assist clients in integrating the experience, discussing insights, and exploring steps towards resolution or acceptance.

Choosing a Therapist

When considering the Empty Chair Technique as part of your therapeutic journey, finding a therapist who is not only skilled in Gestalt therapy but also a good fit for you personally is crucial. This decision can greatly influence the therapy’s effectiveness and your overall experience. 

Here are some key criteria to consider when selecting a professional experienced with this technique:

  • Experience With Gestalt Therapy: Look for therapists who have specific training and experience in Gestalt therapy and the Empty Chair Technique. Their expertise in guiding this process is necessary for a productive therapeutic experience.
  • Therapeutic Approach and Philosophy: Select a therapist whose approach to therapy aligns with your needs and goals. Understanding their perspective on client empowerment, the therapeutic relationship, and emotional processing is important.
  • Empathy and Understanding: Choose a therapist who demonstrates empathy, understanding, and a genuine interest in your journey. A supportive and nonjudgmental therapist can significantly enhance the therapeutic process.
  • Feedback from Previous Clients: Reviews or testimonials from previous clients can provide insight into the therapist’s effectiveness, particularly with the Empty Chair Technique.
  • Comfort Level: The therapeutic relationship is foundational to successful therapy. Ensure you feel comfortable and connected with the therapist, as this relationship is crucial for engaging deeply with the technique.
  • Professional Credentials: Seek a therapist who is a member of a professional association, such as the American Psychotherapy Association, which verifies the credentials and licensure of its members.  

How Can an Empty Chair Help Me?

Using The Empty Chair Technique helps bring you into the present. As you verbalize what’s going on, the abstract becomes more concrete. When you take on the other person’s role, you gain insight into your own perspective as well as theirs.

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If the exercise 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 and 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.

Embracing the Potential for Change

The Empty Chair Technique stands out as a transformative element of Gestalt therapy, offering a unique avenue for individuals to engage deeply with their innermost thoughts and unresolved emotions. By facilitating a direct dialogue with an absent person or a part of oneself, this method embodies the therapeutic power to illuminate and reconcile internal conflicts. It is a testament to the potential for change that lies within the realm of self-awareness and emotional exploration.

For those seeking to harness this transformative power, the guidance of a skilled professional is invaluable. Therapists trained in Gestalt therapy and experienced with the Empty Chair Technique can provide the necessary support, insight, and environment for individuals to navigate their emotional landscapes. This professional guidance not only optimizes results but also ensures the journey toward self-awareness and conflict resolution is meaningful and effective.

In embracing the Empty Chair Technique, individuals open themselves to the possibility of profound change, healing, and growth. It is an invitation to explore the depths of one’s psyche, confront the unresolved, and ultimately step into a more integrated and authentic self.

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