Developed by Friedrich Perls in the 1940s and 1950s, Gestalt is an approach focused on the here and now of experiencing, believing that the individual is best understood in context of their current relationships with the world rather than their historical background. The word ‘Gestalt’ means a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, which very much reflects the perspective of this approach towards exploring the mind, body and spirit of the individual in context of their present experiencing.
Gestalt Therapy employs many techniques around emotional and creative expression, often using role-play and its famous two chair technique in order to encourage the individual to explore new patterns of being and relating or to express themselves in ways and means that would be unsafe to do in existing or past relationships. This provides clients with means to complete ‘unfinished business’ they have with themselves or other people in their lives, allowing them to resolve stifled emotional blockages through expression that are preventing vitality and growth. This is particularly useful if the person in question is no longer part of the client’s life or in a position whereby such expression may not be safe and have damaging consequences.
Two chair technique
The Gestalt two chair technique is a powerful psychotherapeutic technique that involves establishing a position or chair, whereby a dialogue can take place as if an entity or person was present. The client may simply express their views and feelings towards the entity understood to be present in the other chair, or often may also be asked to sit themselves in the other position and imagine they were in fact the person or entity with which they are communicating. A number of setups exist for two chair work, a few of which are as follows:
- External Dialogue
This is used primarily for ‘unfinished business’ and allows a person to imagine the person with whom they have had issue or unresolved emotional conflict, and fully express how they feel and say what they need to say. This could be used in context of an absent parent, a failed relationship or a bereavement.
- Internal Dialogue
This is used to separate, define and communicate with different parts of the client’s mind and disowned aspects of themselves. This could be used, for example, to communicate with an overly harsh inner critic to attempt to establish a line of dialogue and understanding. In these instances the client will often be encouraged to take the place of the other position and speak from it, in order to gain insight into the origins of the inner voice and be encouraged to acknowledge and own it as part of themselves.
Gestalt views dreams in a similar way to Jungian psychotherapy, suggesting that all aspects of a dream form part of an individual. In order to utilise this in chair work, which may also be extended to role-play, the client would be asked to attempt to embody and speak from all the different symbols, positions and personalities available within their dream.