As first popularized by Fritz Perls, one of the founders of gestalt therapy, an empty chair faced the client. The client imagined someone (or himself, herself, or parts of him or herself) in it, and spoke, gestured, or otherwise communicated to the “empty chair,” which was now not so empty. The client then sat in the chair, continuing the conversation, this time reversing roles. Variations of the “empty chair” developed over the decades in order to fit the clinical needs of the situation – and as gestalt therapy evolved. The client might participate in this technique without the “prop” of an actual empty chair. Importantly, the technique today always includes attention to the relational dynamic between the client and the psychotherapist.
3. How does it help the client?
This technique often brings clients into present or immediate experiences. Abstractions or verbalizations become enlivened moments. Clients may be able to experience different aspects of their own conflicts in a new manner through empty-chair dialogue. Gestalt therapy is more than a collection of techniques, despite the notoriety of the empty chair. This technique is one of the many interventions within gestalt therapy, all with the common purpose of facilitating discovery and psychotherapeutic insight.
4. What makes the empty chair a cool intervention?
Any intervention that challenges the passivity of the clinician and turns psychotherapy into a creative collaboration is a cool technique. Further, if the empty chair is a new approach to the clients, it offers a new perspective on the therapy process.