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Gestalt Therapy: Defining Chair dialogue

Answer the following question from the dialogue from a counseling session. T=Therapist H=Helen (client). Her case study is attached.

1.The majority of this session involves chair dialog. What was the goal of chair dialog in the case of Helen? How effective do you believe this technique was? (Answer needs to be approximately 250-300 words).

Here is the dialogue from the session:

T: How are you doing today?

H: I'm doing...OK. I don't like the way that I feel.

T: On your way over here today were you thinking about what you might want to get from the session? Thinking about what you needed.

H: Well yeah I guess.I need to not feel like this anymore. That's why I keep coming. I just want to get to a different place.

T: Can you tell me about this feeling you have? What is that feeling like?

H: I don't like feeling like I am unhappy where I am. But making a change would be too hard. Having something else would just be...too hard to get there.

T: So when you are talking about not being happy where you are, are you talking about your external life, your home life? Work Life?

H: Well I really don't have a work life. My work life is sorta my home life. I feel so discontented with my marriage with myself. And I think, about what am I going to do about that and I feel sometimes that I want to runaway from home and start a new life and it will be like poof this old life will have disappeared.

T: So we could make a presumption that there is a way that you keep yourself from the feelings that you want. It's less about what's going on externally and more about what's going on internally. If you can approach it like that you might feel more empowered. So would you be willing to try an experiment that might give you a sense of what's going on internally that makes you feel like you can't have the feelings that you want.


T: This isn't something we've ever tried before, but given the relationship that we have you would just have to take a leap with me that this might help you feel like you might be more satisfied once you understand why some of what goes on inside you. What the experiment is called is chair work. Basically what I have you do is go to another chair and you become apart of your personality that might really be interfering or blocking the feelings you're looking for. What I might do is have you come to the other chair and be the part of the personality that keeps Helen discontented. So I'd like you to come over here. I want you to see Helen. It might be Helen now or Helen from the past. Whatever comes to your mind. I want you to be force that tells her that she cannot runaway and that she has to stay in this dry mundane, discontented lifestyle. Because that is what good girls do.

H: Silence, (but looking stressed).

T: If you need my help.

H: What would you say? (Talking to the therapist).

T: I would tell her she can't have what she wants. I hear what she wants and she can't have it. I might say.Look at the life I have, my life is fine and you need to buck-up and do it too.

H: Yeah.

T: And who might that be? She says she's discontent.

H: You have responsibilities.

T: Yes, that's right.

H: And there are people who are depending on you. And there are people who will not make it if you're not where you said you would be.

T: Does this way you are talking to her or the way that you feel remind you of anyone from you past or anyone in your life right now?

H: Probably...my mom.

T: So, whats your name (Helen's Mom)?

H: Sara.

T: So, Sara, as you talk to Helen you look sad. Its like your telling her these things but you look sad.

H: I heard them too. But, you can't stop when people need you. You make one decision and that leads to another decision and then that leads to a whole life. Its not that itâ??s not important she starts crying a little).

T: Is it that you can't imagine that there could be any other way? How do you think it would feel to tell her that...that you can't imagine there would be any other way. This is all you know, this is the only thing you would know to share with her.

H: I can't imagine that there is another way.

T: Yeah.

H: And I am so sorry for that.

T: Yeah (hands Helen a tissue).

H: What if she made changes in her life then she would have found freedom that I would not have.

T: How would that be for you?

H: I don't..I think I would be jealous.

T: Yeah.So I want you to come back over here to the other chair. Helen because it sounds like you are having a reaction to what your mother is saying to you. Lets put your mother over here (Chair that Helen just moved from). Now this could be the mother from your childhood. We are not assigning blame to the mother you have now unless you are having some anger. Is there anything you would like to say to that mother about what is really going on.

H: I wanted you to be please with me for more than just because I was good. That it wasn't because I was the one getting into trouble or fighting with you.

T: How much of your energy is invested in being good and having her being please with you. How much is invested in that?

H: It's my job.

T: So your job is to give up your life to please your mother.

H: That sound pretty.

T: Yes, I know. Sit with it and add your own words.

H: (She nods OK). I was so close to getting away.

T: Where does your father fit into this?

H: He's gotten a lot of the benefit and didn't have to put in any of the time.

T: You sound angry.

H: It's not fair.

T: No. So do you think its fair to be angry with him?

H: Yes. Cause he did have choices to make. And maybe my mother didn't.

T: What do you mean he had choices to make and your mother didn't?

H: He could have chosen to be home more, to be more involved in our lives growing up. He could have taken the time that would have made a difference to my two sisters and my brother. He really could have reached out more emotionally.

T: You know what I am aware of as you talk about your anger with him is that your tone changes and you seem livelier. Do you feel that?

H: Yes.

T: So it's easier to be mad at him.

H: I don't feel sorry for him.

T: Just for the sake of brevity, let's put him in the chair. You want to tell him how you don't feel sorry for him?

H: I don't feel sorry for you. Even now, just...just the status you hold, the way that people see you and the way that my brother is so screwed up. And everybody just thinks it's because he's a screw up.

T: So your dad had nothing to do with itâ?¦

H: He had plenty to do with it.

T: I hear he had plenty to do with it. Would he take responsibility for that?

H: No.

T: So your dad had choices he got to make choices. He didn't sacrifice anything.

H: He worked long hours.

T: Was that his choice?

H: Probably some of it was his choice. I think practicing medicine was a different proposition then. I don't think you had choices to make then in regards to family. You could have been with us when you were home. You could have made the effort but you didn't. And my mother who could say just one word and it just sends me into a tailspin she had to do so much. And now my father has a pretty good relationship with my sisters and with all of his grandchildren who think he is just the greatest thing since sliced bread. And its my mom with the screwed up issues. She's the one we are always so frustrated with. But she had to do the dirty work.

T: Do you feel like if you could feel more alive with your anger that it would give you some more choices about how you could live your life differently?

H: That is hard for me to imagine.

T: Yeah.

H: And I also. I mean if I let myself feel angrier then I could get really angry with my mother.

T: It sounds like you already are.

H: But she doesn't know that.

T: You don't have to tell her. None of this is anything that you have to share with anyone. This is for you. I think sometimes we presume that what happens in here we have to share with people we don't. She doesn't have to know any of this; this is for you.

H: OK.

T: And keeping in mind that this is your internalized mother and it might have anything to do with the mother that you talk to daily.

H: Oh, OK.

T: At the point and time that we are developing our personality generally that happens between 0 and 6 and then in our teenage years we are sorta redoing how we took in our parent those first years. So by the time you become an adult you've already internalized them and you just sort of repeat to yourself over and over again. Its already wired in.

H: So how do I get it wired out?

T: The more that we bring awareness to what you got wired in the easier it will be to separate what keep you held back. What stops you.

H: OK. So I can be mad at my internalized mother?

T: Yes, and what ends up happening then you can just feel then more alive. Rather than good girl stopping you, you can start feeling angry. But angry in a way that generates more of feeling alive. Do you know what I mean when I say that?

H: Yeah.

T: So its not that your walking around angry. Its more about feeling more connected to the intensity to all your emotions.

H: OK. OK (smile).

T: OK. Do you have any questions about what we did today? Is there anything you can take from here?

H: I think I have to stop all the time and ask myself if I say I want to do that but I can't. I have to stop and ask myself who is telling me that.

T: Its like doing chair work in your head and you might find that you are shedding light on that part of yourself that stops you.

H: Because there is this place that I get to that I say OK that's enough. I feel so dead now that I just can't. Now I'm thinking that maybe my husband isn't what I thought he was just because maybe I'm the one that just sorta killed apart of myself or something.

T: Well that can give your relationship more hope. When we start to work on our own internal issues all the things on the outside the relationships look different. Were not waiting around for that person to change.

H: Yeah.

T: So every time you hear that voice stop whose voice is that? Just so you know whose voice is that?

H: Its my mom's voice and sometimes its my mom's voice speaking for my dad.

T: So sometimes its his voice too. He's in there too. And maybe sometime we can get to that's how much you've internalized him and in what way. What way he might have stopped you and in what way he may have encouraged you. Its not all negative we internalize all of it's not just the part that stops us, but the part that supports us too.

H: Right.

T: I might ask you next week if anything we discussed today impacted your week and we will start again next week.

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Solution Preview

The concept of chair dialogue involves the individual resolving "unfinished business" while in the "chair." The chair supposedly provides the individual with an outlet for exposing and confronting past "demons." During chair dialog, fears subside as the individual begins to embody who she would like to be, rather than who she is, without any reservations. Helen's case reflects a lot of unresolved issues involving many different individuals from her background. ...

Solution Summary

Chair dialogue is an important part of Gestalt therapy. This solution describes and details this process using a case study.