Gestalt Therapy: The Empty Chair Technique

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Gestalt: an organized whole that is perceived as more than...

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 is Gestalt therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and focuses on the individual’s experience in the present moment, the therapist-client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, emotional issues, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. It uses techniques like the empty chair to facilitate awareness of one’s 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.

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 in promoting a dialogue that could lead 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.

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 understand their emotions and reactions better.

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.


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. 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. Gain self-awareness and overcome overthinking. Begin our transformative overthinking test now.

If the empty chair 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, 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.

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