Abnormal Psychology: Mental Health and Mental Illness


What is the empty chair technique?

The empty chair technique is a popular technique used in Gestalt therapy, a branch of psychotherapy founded by Fritz Perls (1893-1970). Clients are asked to address an empty chair as if speaking to somebody with whom they have some interpersonal difficulty. They are then asked to tell that person everything that they are feeling. In this way, they can figure out what they are actually feeling, practice putting those feelings into words, and identify the fears that keep them from communicating directly with the person in question. Interestingly, the empty chair technique has similarities with the behavioral technique of systematic desensitization. By practicing a feared conversation without the actual person present, the client is asked to confront something anxiety-provoking at a lower level of anxiety. If the person can master the anxiety at that lower intensity, presumably he or she can move from there onto the more challenging situation. Hopefully, the person can progress from talking to the empty chair to a conversation with the actual person.


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