Early in my training in Gestalt therapy, I became acquainted with the dual-chair technique, originally introduced by Frederick (Fritz) Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy. I was struck by the versatility and power of this method, not only to increase self-awareness but also to promote interaction among group members (Glass, 2001). As originally practiced by Perls, an individual indicated his or her willingness to engage with the therapist by taking the "hot seat," a chair facing the therapist. An additional "empty chair" next to the client was used to imagine the presence of a significant other, or a disowned or denied part of self for the purpose of initiating a dialogue.
For example, if the client was in conflict within a part of himself or herself, e.g., one part had expectations for high achievement and another part procrastinated and made excuses, (a particular personality split that Perls labeled "top dog/bottom dog") the therapist might suggest the client have a dialogue between these two parts. This technique involves the client moving back and forth between the two chairs, speaking alternately from each position. As the interplay between these polar opposites is heightened and thereby more fully experienced, integration through greater self-acceptance becomes possible.
Although Perls originally practiced Gestalt therapy primarily as an individual form of treatment, others subsequently have expanded the approach to working with groups in a way that encourages more interaction among group members (e.g., Glass, 1972; Feder & Ronall, 1980). For example, using the empty-chair technique, invite an individual who has only shown his friendly, "nice guy" persona in his interactions with other group members to put his critical, judgmental side in the empty chair. After giving this side a voice with accompanying affect, the member is then asked to experiment with engaging others in the group from this perspective, expressing criticisms and disagreements as may be appropriate to his relationship with each group member. Group members are then asked to respond, leading to more authentic group interaction. Additional examples can be found in discussions by other authors (Woldt & Toman, 2005; Yontef & Jacobs, 2005).
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