14 December 2010

The two chair exercise

I found out when I went googling for source material that this also is known as the empty chair exercise.

This is an excellent psychotherapy technique which does not require any supervision. It can be as short as fifteen minutes and requires very little--a quiet space and two chairs. The purpose is to clarify one's autobiography and troubling personal relations. Place two chairs opposite each other three to eight feet apart. Sit down in one chair. Speak in the first person for a few minutes, as the other person in the memory you are seeking some insight or clarity on.

You don't need to be precisely accurate or explicit about the troubling issue at this point. Just a couple items such as one would say in a social introduction: "I am so-and-so; from where about; do such-and-such for a living; married to whosit's, &c."

Switch chairs. Try and visualize the person of your inquiry sitting in the other chair. Make small talk, such as one would say in a social introduction, addressed to the subject of the exercise. Meditate for a couple of minutes on the situation. Try and imagine it as real as you possible can. Then, after a couple of minutes of the meditation, speak to the other chair calm and sincere about the issue which troubles you. If the issue troubles you greatly, go slowly.

Switch chairs again. Try and imagine how the other person would respond to your conversation if they were there. Speak the words as you imagine they would speak them, while imagining that you are there in the second chair, attending to them. Switch back and forth between the two viewpoints and the two chairs until the exercise naturally runs out of new things to imagine and to say. Practice empathy, and assume goodwill in the imagined presence and they are practicing empathy too, even if your real-life experience with the real person was that they had generally poor empathy skills.

That is all there is to it. My knowledge of the history of this technique is consistent with the information in the Psychology Today article I linked to above. It was invented by the therapist Fredrich (Fritz) Perls, who became a psychotherapist after a first career as a theater director. I have a couple of Acting texts which use a number of Perls' therapy techniques as drama exercises for aspiring and even professional actors, an example of cross disciplinary synergy for the textbooks.

I have a short document of applying this technique in my recent experience in this post. I briefly looked at the other nine of the Psychology Today's ten cool interventions and this is the only one that I can heartily endorse.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.