What is an “Empty Chair”

This is a Gestalt therapy exercise in which a person talks to an imaginary interlocutor sitting opposite him in an empty chair. The task of the speaker is to express everything that is in his soul, all the thoughts and feelings that the counterpart evokes. They also often try to model a dialogue, that is, to be responsible for the interlocutor. As the last may be not only living or dead people, but also something symbolic, such as a goal or an inner critic.

The exercise was invented by the founder of Gestalt therapy Fritz Perls in the 40s of the XX century. Most often it is done together with a psychotherapist.

Why You Should Use the Empty Chair Technique

Options several.

To sort out your feelings

Starting a dialogue about a problem that worries you, you may not even suspect how you really feel about the interlocutor. But during the exercise, you will identify your true emotions. Anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness, or any other feelings may appear in your words, intonations and gestures. When you notice this, you can deal with the problem.

To freely express feelings and get rid of them

Sometimes it’s hard to show real emotion in a one-on-one conversation. The interlocutor may interrupt you, abruptly change the subject, or close emotionally. Another problem is that you can be judged if you openly complain, get angry or cry.

During the exercise, you do not need to worry about it. You can say whatever you want to an empty chair. it will help get rid of negative emotions, overcome pain.

Stuart Kaplowitz

Family psychotherapist.

When we use the empty chair technique, we can get as angry as we want. Don’t worry about what and how you say it. Give yourself free rein. Once things settle down, you may feel like you’ve picked out some important statements for yourself that you can then tell the person in person. But at the moment it doesn’t matter. Just let yourself speak.

To get rid of guilt

A little research showedthat exercise reduces a person’s feelings of guilt towards himself or others. The thing is that in front of an empty chair it is easier for a person to understand the reasons for what happened, to admit his mistakes.

To resolve internal or interpersonal conflicts

This helps modeling dialogue, when you make a claim to the interlocutor in an empty chair, and then move to his place and answer aloud to yourself. This allows you to better understand the opponent and, perhaps, even accept his point of view.

Coping with psychological trauma

During the exercise, you will be able to say anything, for example, to an imaginary parent who was once rude to you, or to a bully who threatened you. You can finally answer the way you would like at that moment. And at the same time you will be completely safe.

To sort out relationships

Objectively assessing the relationship is quite difficult. Sometimes it is difficult to be completely honest with a partner, and this can lead to misunderstandings. Through sincere conversation with an empty chair, you will be able to identify the problems that you need to solve.

Moreover, during the exercise, you are likely to notice something that was not so striking before. For example, the fact that the relationship is unhealthy or, on the contrary, they make you happy, but you still want to change something.

To prepare for a difficult dialogue

Suppose you have a serious conversation with a person with whom you are in a bad relationship. Because of the upcoming meeting or call, you are probably worried about what to say and how, or afraid that you will miss something. The Empty Chair practice will help you talk things out ahead of time and thus reduce your anxiety and stress levels.

To improve communication skills

When emotions take over, it is impossible to build a constructive dialogue. The Empty Chair technique helps to get rid of unnecessary worries and excitement. Also, with its help, you can learn how to correctly formulate your thoughts.

Can I do the Empty Chair exercise at home?

Yes, but with a therapist it will be more effective. Firstly, because he will be able to look at the problem from the outside and with the help of leading questions he will not let you get away from the topic. Secondly, if at some point your emotions reach a peak and you cannot calm down on your own, a specialist will help you do this. Thirdly, an unprepared person is unlikely to cope with psychological trauma on his own.

However, you can still try to get rid of emotions. American family therapist Stuart Kaplowitz recommends for their patients to do this exercise as needed to vent negativity about someone or something. What you say won’t make things worse.

How to do the exercise yourself

Make sure that you are in a comfortable environment, there are no distractions and there is complete silence around you.

Take an empty chair, put it in front of you and sit opposite. In the initial stages, a chair is required, but later on you you can do without it.

Stuart Kaplowitz

Family psychotherapist.

For example, here you are driving in a car and suddenly remember that some person once disappointed you. Say it out loud. This can be done both at home and on a walk in the park. I often hear from clients how easy it has become for them to be freed from negative emotions.

Imagine how a person or something symbolic (for example, laziness or an inner critic) sits on an empty chair. It is better to make his portrait as detailed as possible. If there are difficulties, do not worry and just start talking. In the process, you may get the impression that you really see the interlocutor in front of you.

Give vent to emotions and express what you feel without being shy in expressions. If you want to scream, scream.

If you want to build a dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor, just take his place and start answering to yourself.

An important condition: take what is happening seriously and, without jokes, say what is in your heart. Only then will the exercise be truly effective.

When you realize that you have nothing more to say to someone or something that is in an empty chair, just say goodbye to the image and imagine how he gets up and leaves.