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Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
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Section 26
Using the Gestalt Empty Chair Technique to
Detriangulate an Absent Father

CEU Question 26 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

The projection of the mother's unresolved feelings about an absent father onto one or more of her children--often the eldest son expected to assume the role of parental child--is an obstacle frequently encountered in therapy with single-parent Black families. Acknowledgment and resolution of these feelings by the mother is an important step toward reestablishing generational boundaries and improving communication between mother and children. It is suggested that the empty chair procedure and the use of family photographs are two interventions that can be used within the context of structural and/or transgenerational family therapies to help the mother separate her feelings about the absent father from her feelings about her children. Models for the use of both approaches and the potential benefits of each is presented. The successful outcome of either technique may depend, however, on variables in the family's history and the stage of therapy during which the techniques are introduced.

The Triangling Of Absent Fathers
One way to look at the effect of a mother's projection of her feelings about an absent father onto his son is in terms of triangling, a term coined by Minuchin (1974) to describe the method by which communication between two members of a family subsystem is diverted through their interactions with a third member. The classic example is the husband and wife who use one of their children as a "go-between" or scapegoat for unresolved conflicts between themselves.

By projecting her feelings about the absent father onto her son, the mother has, in effect, created a triangle composed of absent lather, son, and herself. Were the father alive and living with the family, or even in contact with the family, we would say that the mother was triangling the son into her relationship with the father, because the son would be the third party onto whom the parents' issues were being diverted. With the father absent, and the son perhaps being needed to assume a parental-child role in the family, however, it is the issues in the relationship between the mother and her son that are being confused with, and obfuscated by, the mother's feelings about the absent lather.

Among the issues most likely to arise between a single mother and a parental child is the conflict between the son or daughter's "age-appropriate thrust toward interaction with his or her peer group" (Boyd-Franklin, 1989), and the mother's reliance on him (or her) to take on parenting responsibilities. The parental child's thrust toward differentiation (Bowen, 1976) is both natural, appropriate, and psychologically healthy, yet his assumption of various executive functions of the household--often necessary for the well-being of the entire family system--may in his mother's eyes, as well as his own, seem in direct contradiction to that thrust to differentiate. As Minuchin (1974) pointed out, the therapeutic goal, then, is to "realign the family in such a way that the parental child can still help the mother," without blurring of generational boundaries. In other words, the son should be able to help his mother, without foregoing the developmental tasks appropriate to adolescence. These issues are best addressed directly between mother and son, with the therapist acting to support both in their respective roles. When, however, the absent father is triangled into the mother-son relationship, it becomes easier for the mother to view her son's thrust toward differentiation as evidence of irresponsibility or uncaringness by virtue of his resemblance to his father whom she might resent for having been (in her eyes) irresponsible or uncaring.

The Use of the Empty Chair: The rationale underlying the Empty Chair technique (popularized by Fritz Perls in his book, Gestalt Therapy, 1951) is well described by Sherman and Fredman (1986): "The process is based on the assumption that the parents' internalized object relations are played out with their children. The parents' internalized relational difficulties result in boundary and contact problems for the members of the family, such as scapegoating, enmeshment, and projective identification by the child. This technique affords the members of the family an opportunity to carry on dialogues with significant individuals who are not present ... the goal is to stimulate the person to those feelings and beliefs that he projects onto other members. The projections create a distortion of reality in the system. The family is organized around those distortions. By integrating the feelings into the self, a more realistic pattern of interaction can emerge (pp. 64-65)."

The Empty Chair is particularly useful in instances such as the one under discussion, as Sherman and Fredman (1986) explain: "The Gestalt technique of the Empty Chair is a useful strategy for working with projection. To interrupt the process of projection this technique may assist the parent in reowning and assimilating the disowned part of himself. By reidentifying the disowned side of the dialogue, the parent is better able to see and relate to the child without projecting his disowned fantasy... In those clinical situations in which a parent projects onto a child, the therapist may interrupt the process of projection by having the parent use the Empty Chair technique. In this instance, it is recommended typically to have the parent work on his projections separate from the children as the intensity and intimacy of the work may weaken generational boundaries (pp. 66-67)."

Bauer (1979) has given a detailed description of the Empty Chair procedure as it is commonly used. Two chairs are set facing each other, and the therapist has the parent sit in one chair and speak to her child as though he were sitting in the empty chair opposite her. Then the therapist instructs the parent to move to the facing chair and speak for the child to herself in the chair she just left. With periodic guidance and interpretive comments from the therapist, the parent continues to conduct both sides of the dialogue until "the parent begins to reown some of the projected parts" (Bauer, 1979).

Eventually the focus will shift from the parent and child dialogue to dialogue within the parent himself or possibly between the parent and his own imagined parent in the empty chair. In this way, the experience is located historically within the family of origin (Bauer, 1979).
It is worth noting that Bauer refers to the Empty Chair technique possibly leading to a dialogue between the parent and his or her own imagined parent, and particularly relevant when working with single-parent Black mothers. Since the times of slavery, American society has either overtly or covertly undermined the nuclear Black family, and the welfare system, in particular, has rewarded the lack of involvement of Black fathers with their children and the mothers of their children. First, welfare laws prohibit the father (or another man) from living in the home of a mother receiving welfare assistance. In addition,

Procedure with Black Single-Parent Mothers: The first stage of the procedure will begin with the mother conducting both sides of a dialogue between herself and her eldest (parental-child) son. At any point in the dialogue, where the therapist notices the mother's projections of her son's absent father coming into the conversation, he will encourage the mother to conduct both sides of a dialogue between herself and her son's absent father. That would be the second stage. As the dialogue between the mother and her son's absent father progresses, the therapist will be alert to evidence of the projection of the mother's feelings about her own absent father onto the son's absent father, and in this way guide the mother toward assimilating her feelings about both absent fathers (hers and her son's) and separating those feelings from the way she sees her son. This is the third stage. In most cases where the mother's father was either present in her home during her childhood, or sufficiently involved with her and her family that she didn't feel abandoned by him, the procedure can end during the second stage (her dialogue between her son's absent father and herself). On the other hand, if the mother's father was present in her home during her childhood but was abusive to her or other members of the family, the therapist should encourage and guide the mother toward the third stage of dialogue.
- Lowe Jr., Walter; Detriangulation of Absent Fathers in Single-Parent Black Families: Techniques of Imagery; American Journal of Family Therapy, Jan-Mar2000, Vol. 28 Issue 1
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

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Personal Reflection Exercise #12
The preceding section contained information about using the Gestalt Empty Chair technique to detriangulate an absent father.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 26
What is triangling? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Work and well-being in TGNC adults: The moderating effect of workplace protections. - September 13, 2018
The present study used a psychology of working theory (PWT) framework to test the direct and indirect relations of perceived social status and transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) marginalization (i.e., victimization, nonaffirmation of gender identity, negative expectations for the future) with work volition, overqualification, and vocational and emotional well-being outcomes (i.e., job satisfaction, meaningful work, satisfaction with life, depression) in a sample of 175 TGNC working adults. This study also tested the moderating effect of one form of structural marginalization (lack of legal protections from employment discrimination) on the overall pattern of results. Participants were recruited using online social media and discussion forums and completed the study survey online. For the full sample, perceived social status and nonaffirmation of gender identity were associated with vocational and emotional well-being outcomes through the mediating role of work volition, and for some paths, overqualification. Significant differences emerged in the overall pattern of results for those without protections, suggesting that protections from discrimination buffer the adverse links of some forms of TGNC marginalization with work volition and vocational outcomes. Implications of study findings for research, counseling, and advocacy are provided. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
The development and psychometric evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21. - July 23, 2018
[Correction Notice: An Erratum for this article was reported in Vol 66(1) of Journal of Counseling Psychology (see record 2018-66276-001). In the article “The development and psychometric evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21” by Laurel B. Watson, Luke R. Allen, Mirella J. Flores, Christine Serpe, and Michelle Farrell (Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2018, Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10 .1037/cou0000301), there were two errors in the Methods section of the article. In Study 1, Participants paragraph of The development and psychometric evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21 for the Methods section, the gender listed at birth was incorrect in the following sentence, The majority of participants in this study identified as trans women and along a trans feminine spectrum, were assigned male at birth, White, had attained some college but no degree, and were employed full time. The correct gender assigned at birth was predominantly female. In addition, the gender coding procedures was incorrectly described. Specifically, those who identified as FAAB and AFAB were actually coded as trans men or along a transmasculine spectrum, whereas those who identified as MAAB and AMAB were coded as trans women and along a trans feminine perspective. In Study 3, Participants paragraph of The development and psychometric evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21 for the Methods section, the gender identity listed in the following sentence was incorrect, The majority of participants identified as trans women and along the trans feminine spectrum, were assigned female at birth, White, had attained some college but no degree, and were students. Rather, participants primarily identified as non-binary trans.] To date, researchers assessing the role of discrimination in trans peoples’ lives have relied upon measures that were developed and normed on LGB populations, culled specific items from large-scale survey data, or used more generalized measures of discrimination that do not specifically assess the unique forms of discrimination that trans people may encounter. Thus, the purpose of this three-part study was to develop and provide psychometric support for a measure of trans peoples’ discrimination. In Study 1, a five-factor model emerged, which included: Microaggressions and Harassment, Restricted Career and Work Opportunities, Maltreatment in Health Care Settings, Harassment by Law Enforcement, and Bullying and Harassment in Educational Settings. Internal consistency estimates for subscale and total scale scores ranged from acceptable to excellent. Results from Study 2 revealed that a bifactor model provided the best fit to the data, revealing that the scale is essentially unidimensional. In addition, convergent and concurrent validity was supported, demonstrating significant positive correlations with another measure of trans discrimination, internalized transphobia, nondisclosure, negative expectations for the future, psychological distress, and perceived stress. In Study 3, results revealed excellent test–retest reliability up to a three-week period. Collectively, results suggested that the Transgender Discrimination Scale-21 (TDS-21) is a psychometrically sound measure that may be used to advance research on the role of discrimination in trans peoples’ lives. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
“The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21”: Correction to Watson et al. (2018). - January 03, 2019
Reports an error in "The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21" by Laurel B. Watson, Luke R. Allen, Mirella J. Flores, Christine Serpe and Michelle Farrell (Journal of Counseling Psychology, Advanced Online Publication, Jul 23, 2018, np). In the article “The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21” by Laurel B. Watson, Luke R. Allen, Mirella J. Flores, Christine Serpe, and Michelle Farrell (Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2018, Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10 .1037/cou0000301), there were two errors in the Methods section of the article. In Study 1, Participants paragraph of The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21 for the Methods section, the gender listed at birth was incorrect in the following sentence, The majority of participants in this study identified as trans women and along a trans feminine spectrum, were assigned male at birth, White, had attained some college but no degree, and were employed full time. The correct gender assigned at birth was predominantly female. In addition, the gender coding procedures was incorrectly described. Specifically, those who identified as FAAB and AFAB were actually coded as trans men or along a transmasculine spectrum, whereas those who identified as MAAB and AMAB were coded as trans women and along a trans feminine perspective. In Study 3, Participants paragraph of The Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Trans Discrimination Scale: TDS-21 for the Methods section, the gender identity listed in the following sentence was incorrect, The majority of participants identified as trans women and along the trans feminine spectrum, were assigned female at birth, White, had attained some college but no degree, and were students. Rather, participants primarily identified as non-binary trans. (The following abstract of the original article appeared in record 2018-35350-001.) To date, researchers assessing the role of discrimination in trans peoples’ lives have relied upon measures that were developed and normed on LGB populations, culled specific items from large-scale survey data, or used more generalized measures of discrimination that do not specifically assess the unique forms of discrimination that trans people may encounter. Thus, the purpose of this three-part study was to develop and provide psychometric support for a measure of trans peoples’ discrimination. In Study 1, a five-factor model emerged, which included: Microaggressions and Harassment, Restricted Career and Work Opportunities, Maltreatment in Health Care Settings, Harassment by Law Enforcement, and Bullying and Harassment in Educational Settings. Internal consistency estimates for subscale and total scale scores ranged from acceptable to excellent. Results from Study 2 revealed that a bifactor model provided the best fit to the data, revealing that the scale is essentially unidimensional. In addition, convergent and concurrent validity was supported, demonstrating significant positive correlations with another measure of trans discrimination, internalized transphobia, nondisclosure, negative expectations for the future, psychological distress, and perceived stress. In Study 3, results revealed excellent test–retest reliability up to a three-week period. Collectively, results suggested that the Transgender Discrimination Scale-21 (TDS-21) is a psychometrically sound measure that may be used to advance research on the role of discrimination in trans peoples’ lives. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Testing intersectionality of race/ethnicity × gender in a social–cognitive career theory model with science identity. - October 04, 2018
Using social–cognitive career theory, we identified the experiential sources of learning that contribute to research self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and science identity for culturally diverse undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math (i.e., STEM) majors. We examined group differences by race/ethnicity and gender to investigate potential cultural variations in a model to explain students’ research career intentions. Using a sample of 688 undergraduate students, we ran a series of path models testing the relationships between the experiential sources, research self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and science identity to research career intentions. Findings were largely consistent with our hypotheses in that research self-efficacy and outcome expectancies were directly and positively associated with research career intentions and the associations of the experiential sources to intentions were mediated via self-efficacy. Science identity contributed significant though modest variance to research career intentions indirectly via its positive association with outcome expectations. Science identity also partially mediated the efficacy-outcome expectancies path. The experiential sources of learning were associated in expected directions to research self-efficacy with 3 of the sources emerging as significantly correlated with science identity. An unexpected direct relationship from vicarious learning to intentions was observed. In testing for group differences by race/ethnicity and gender in subsamples of Black/African American and Latino/a students, we found that the hypothesized model incorporating science identity was supported, and most paths did not vary significantly across four Race/Ethnicity × Gender groups, except for 3 paths. Research and practice implications of the findings for supporting research career intentions of culturally diverse undergraduate students are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Construction and validation of the Multicultural Orientation Inventory—Group Version. - July 12, 2018
Given the continued racial/ethnic diversification of the United States, it is not uncommon for therapy groups to consist of members with diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds and various cultural identities. Scholars have underscored how this cultural diversity can directly impact many processes and outcomes of group-based interventions (Chen, Kakkad, & Balzano, 2008). However, there is presently a paucity of empirical research testing the relationship between cultural processes of therapy groups and members’ outcomes. Moreover, no psychometrically sound measure of the cultural process that unfolds in group therapy currently exists. As such, this study sought to adapt the Multicultural Orientation Inventory to develop and validate the Multicultural Orientation Inventory—Group Version (MCO-G), a measure assessing the cultural humility, cultural comfort, and cultural missed opportunities in therapy groups. Data for this validation study consisted of 208 members of 49 therapy groups across 10 university counseling centers. Confirmatory factor analyses supported a 3-factor structure of the MCO-G Inventory, wherein the 3 factors corresponded with the underlying constructs of cultural humility, cultural comfort, and cultural missed opportunities. This study provides initial evidence for the estimated internal and convergent validity of the MCO-G, as measured by clients’ perceptions of a higher-order group therapeutic factor and improvement in therapy. Results provide initial support for the psychometric properties of the MCO-G. Moreover, groups’ cultural humility and cultural missed opportunities were related to members’ improvement in therapy. Clinical implications and future research are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

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