Gestalt Therapy and the Empty Chair


The ‘empty chair’ is a classic example from the early development of Gestalt Therapy in the 1950-60s of the use of experiments to broaden and deepen the client’s awareness. This aim is based upon the idea that, with awareness, comes a greater degree of contact, choice and ability to respond creatively and differently from what may have become a fixed pattern. Experiments can take many forms but using an empty chair has become established as an effective way for clients to explore many aspects of their experience of relationship with others and their own process.

The Empty Chair is particularly useful for:

  • Stuckness/unfinished business
  • An input of energy to help a client move into new awareness
  • Practicing new ways of responding

Experiments are only truly effective when they emerge from the dialogue between client and counsellor. If they are forced or imposed then they become inauthentic, empty and are more likely to serve the counsellor’s sense of effectiveness or need to ‘fix’ things. We also need to use such techniques safely and ethically – good training in making these assessments is essential.