Empty chair technique

Imagine yourself sitting next to an empty chair. Now, imagine there is a person sitting there - someone with whom you want to solve a conflict or just communicate better. You start talking and then switch places and impersonate your interlocutor. Using this technique can help you solve some of your problems with other people.

Its creator, Fritz Perls, is also a founder of Gestalt therapy (therapeutic model focusing on what the client is experiencing here and now, built in the 50’s). Unlike most therapies, Gestalt aims to discover yourself through experiences and experiments. That’s exactly what the technique I will show you today is about. It is usually used for all kinds of relationships.
Relationship problems are a very common theme in my coaching work. Many people want to free themselves from tormenting emotions, heal their relationships, get rid of the blockages standing in the way to make happy relationships with others. Empty chair technique works great when:

  • you can’t get along with your loved ones,
  • someone doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say or is not listening to you and you want to be more clear about your needs,
  • you want to break free from sorrow or anger towards another person,
  • you have expectations of someone, and they’re not taken into account,
  • you’re stressed before job interview,
  • you need to talk to your partner and you’re scared of that conversation.

In fact, you can use this technique to work on every relationship and in various situations. Healing relationships is almost always about communication, and that’s this techniques’ main area of interest.

Empty chair technique is about role-playing. What’s interesting, you play both of them. Instead of thinking about what may happen, you just play the parts - one time you are yourself, another time you are this person. You run the dialogue always reacting at what you’ve just said in your previous role.

What’s this empty chair for? What’s standing up and switching places for? Why role-playing?

When structured this way, the process will allow you to get in touch with your natural reactions and emotions. You’ll release and express them in a safe environment (there is no risk that the other party will judge you). Movement and switching places will allow you to seprate yourself from established thinking patterns. Morover, you’ll experience this situation as if it was happening live.

Ready? Read the instructions carefully:

Empty chair technique
1. Choose the topic and think about the person connected with it.
2. Place two chairs next to each other and sit on one of them.
3. Imagine this person sitting on the other chair, with all the details - what he/she is wearing, face expression, body language. Give yourself a few moments to visualize all of that (you may close your eyes). If it’s hard for you, just try to feel her presence.
4. Think about what you feel towards that person. What would you like to say to her/him? Express your feelings in an honest and straightforward way. No need to beat around the bush. If you want to scream, just do it. Express what’s in you. Try not to judge the person, but rather express your own feelings.
5. Stand up and sit down on the other chair. Emphatize with your interlocutor. Consider how he/she might react to your message. Being in a role of that person, answer aloud as if you were simply continuing dialogue.
6. When you express all that you had to say, switch places again. Continue the dialogue to the point when you tell “each other” everything - in which all the emotions and opinions are expressed.
7. Write down all conclusions.

As you can see, the technique seems to be pretty easy. And it is, at least when it comes to the construction.
When it comes to performing it - not always. It all depends on a situation you want to work with and emotions inside you. There is one thing I know for sure - going through the entire process accurately and closely can give surprising effects.

Since I use this technique when working with my clients, I have seen a huge relief and willingness to deal with the situation in the real word. Sometimes it was about expressing love, communicating one’s fear and doubts, difficult conversation. Role-playing in this situation is a great way of releasing from internal blockades and dealing with difficult emotions.

For those of you who get really good at using this technique - it’s also worth using when:

  • working with emotions towards people who are not here anymore,
  • working with internal conflicts, your own subpersonalities (parts of your personality),
  • working directly with our emotions (imagine that you see a symbol of this emotion sitting next to you),
  • you want to prepare something connected with your job, e.g. speaking to your boss.

You now know everything that you need to try that on yourself. All you need is two chairs. Of course, you can do that later, but believe me… now’s the best moment. It will take you 10 minutes maximum. As you finish, write a comment and tell me what you’ve experienced and what your conclusions are.

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