Gestalt Therapy: Why & How ‘Empty Chair Technique’ Is Used?
The literal meaning of Gestalt is ‘an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts’. Thus, Gestalt therapy is self-centered psychotherapy that revolves around your present moment (along with the environment and social contexts), without bothering about the past or future. It helps a person to deal with his own emotions, find self-value, and take responsibility for his own life rather than depending on others.
The Role Of ‘Empty Chair’
Developed by psychologists Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman, Gestalt therapy is a very simple approach where a person sits in front of an empty chair and pictures someone whom they want to express their feelings. It is not necessary to picture someone else, one can picture half of themselves as well.
The role of an empty chair actually twists when you move to the other chair and face where you were sitting earlier. Here, you begin to answer your own questions from the perspective of another person. Yes, it may require you to switch between the two chairs multiple times but this therapy frees you from webs of relationship by understanding both sides.
Gestalt psychotherapy or empty chair technique is also beneficial in treating conditions like:
How Gestalt Therapy Works: Steps Involved
As we know that Gestalt therapy is meant to generate action, emotion, and goals from the person, let us help you with the steps that are followed in empty chair technique.
- The person is asked to sit on a chair facing an empty chair.
- Now they have to imagine someone sitting in front of them. It could be your family member, friend, spouse, boss or even a part of themselves.
- The therapist tries to fuel the conversation so that the person’s thoughts get engaged.
- One common exercise in the empty chair technique or gestalt therapy is exaggeration exercise. The person is asked to repeat as well as exaggerate a particular expression so that they become aware of the attached emotions.
Benefits of Empty Chair Technique
Gestalt therapy has various benefits. Some of the common benefits of engaging in Gestalt therapy can include;
1. This therapy focuses on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, so it helps your overall understanding, making it a more holistic approach than other therapy approaches.
2. Gestalt therapy helps you become more self-aware when it comes to your thoughts, emotions, and your behaviors. This self-awareness you gain can help you make smart and better decisions.
3. Gestalt therapy also encourages living in the moment which can help reduce anxiety about the future and regrets from the past. It can help you engage in your present experiences more.
4. It is believed that people who engage in the ‘Empty Chair’ technique learn to express their feelings more effectively than others. This proactive approach can better your relationships and reduce the chance of misunderstandings in your relationships.
5. Gestalt therapy allows you to take responsibility for your actions and choices, leading to a more positive change in your behaviors and actions overall.
6. Therapists who encourage Gestalt therapy help you address unresolved issues from the past. Doing this allows you to let go of the emotional baggage you’ve been carrying and move forward in life.
7. Gestalt therapy offers a safe space for you to express your thoughts and emotions. When you don’t have a person you can express your feelings, the ‘Empty Chair’ technique can provide a good substitute for emotional release.
8. The therapeutic relationship you develop in Gestalt therapy is non-judgmental, allowing you to feel accepted and understood. You also learn a lot of creative techniques that can help you explore more deeply about yourself and how you react to situations.
Why Gestalt Therapy Is Used By Therapists?
If you believe that you have understood the therapy and you can use it at home, you may need to clear this doubt here first. A therapist or an expert sits with you during the therapy for guidance, motivation, and other multiple reasons like:
1. Identify Your Own Hidden Feelings:
There are instances when you cannot express yourself to the other person out of embarrassment or hurting them but this is exactly what needs to be done here. A therapist helps you with the identification of anger, fear, sadness, guilt or any other feelings by noticing your words, gestures, or expressions.
2. Express Freely & Openly:
When you normally express yourself to someone, they may avoid you, curl away from their eyes, or interrupt in between with their own discussion but when you are into Gestalt therapy, you are allowed to express everything in detail. You certainly feel relieved and able to pass through the burden in your heart and mind.
3. Makes You Understand Relationships:
Sometimes we forget to understand the perspectives of our partner in a relationship and become self-centered. As soon as you understand both sides with the help of a therapist, relevant changes can be made for a long-term relationship.
4. Taking Self-Responsibility:
In order to grow and accept your experiences, Gestalt therapy encourages clients to make themselves better as well as take responsibility for making their surroundings better. It also grows people emotionally and cuts down the painful memories.
Key Ideas Of Empty Chair Technique
1. Clear Words & Language:
Gestalt counseling or the empty chair technique allows the person to speak his heart out in the context of the present moment without If’s and But’s. It encourages a person to open up thinking that the person whom they want to talk to is present in the room at the moment and speaks up in the desired words and preferred language.
2. The Empty Chair:
An empty chair gives the person to use his imagination in whichever way they want to heal themselves.
3. Multiple Roles:
The therapist only acts as a guide in the process as the client has to play a role as well as the role of the one they are talking to. It helps him understand the conflicts that he is going through inside out.
4. Expressive Body Language:
As the words are expressed, the body language and expressions change as well. From throwing your foot away to sweating profusely, the Gestalt therapist notices your body language to interpret the meaning and feelings.
With all these key ideas, Gestalt therapy helps a person to exaggerate his feelings and describe what he feels in different parts of the body. For example, ‘I am feeling butterflies in my stomach’ or ‘there is a sinking feeling inside my heart’.
Where To Find Gestalt Therapy?
You can find a professional online or you can ask for recommendations from your mental health professional for therapists who work using Gestalt therapy or utilize the ‘Empty Chair’ technique in their therapy sessions. If you can’t find someone proficient with this technique, then you can find Gestalt therapists using these resources;
1. Online Therapy Platforms: Online platforms and websites such as BetterHelp, Talkspace, and even 7 Cups have a network of trained therapists and listeners who can offer therapy through video calls, chat, or audio calls.
2. Mental Health Therapists: If you can, you can find therapists who specialize in Gestalt therapy offline as well. Some practitioners may even offer online therapy. You can search for them by asking online therapy service providers in your area or seek recommendations from your offline mental health professionals.
3. Gestalt Therapy Institutes: Some institutes offer Gestalt therapy online. The therapists staffed in these institutes are trained in Gestalt therapy so you don’t have to search everywhere. You can find Gestalt Therapy institutes online and contact them directly.
4. Online Resources: You can also check out online mental health resources and associations to search for professionals who use Gestalt therapy to treat their clients. You can find these resources depending on your country. Some online Gestalt therapy resources and organizations are;
- The Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT)
- The European Association for Gestalt Therapy
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is empty chair technique?
A. The empty chair technique is a method in which a person is asked to sit in front of an empty chair and the emphasis is placed on ‘here and now’. A person gains more about themselves and a new perspective is achieved during the conversation with an imaginative person sitting on an empty chair.
Q2. Who uses the empty chair technique?
A. As therapists may recommend, those who are dealing with grief and unhappiness can look for this empty chair technique.
Q3. What are the effects of empty chair technique?
A. The empty chair technique is helpful in giving closure to things which are bothering you like a past relationship or marriage. Also, it reduces harmful thoughts within oneself and gives a better idea about one’s own feelings.
The whole theory of Perls revolved around being aware of the inner soul that ultimately heals you as well as your surroundings. However, the therapy mostly focuses on the present and needs the therapist to be very attentive at the moment.
The therapy can be applied by intermingling it with other psychotherapies to make you a mentally strong and healthy individual.