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Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
Gestalt Therapy continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

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.
Critical consciousness moderates the relationship between transphobia and “bathroom bill” voting. - July 12, 2018
In recent years, antitransgender legislation that focuses on gender and the use of public restrooms—so-called bathroom bills—has been considered in many states in the United States. The present study was designed to extend research on transphobic attitudes and elucidate links between religious fundamentalism, social dominance orientation, transphobia, and voting for bathroom bills. Further, we examined the moderating influence of critical consciousness on the relationship between transphobic attitudes and voting on a hypothetical bathroom bill. Results of a moderated mediation multinomial logistic regression path analysis using data from a sample of 282 college students (154 women and 128 men) indicated that religious fundamentalism and social dominance orientation were associated with transphobic attitudes. Transphobia was associated with lower likelihood to vote against or abstain from voting on the bill, compared to voting for it. Critical consciousness was also associated with greater likelihood of voting against the bill rather than for it. The interaction between transphobia and critical consciousness was associated with voting against rather than for the bill, such that at higher levels of transphobia, those higher in critical consciousness were more likely to vote against the bill rather than for it. Implications for incorporating critical consciousness into advocacy efforts to promote transgender rights are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Socialization and well-being in multiracial individuals: A moderated mediation model of racial ambiguity and identity. - July 12, 2018
Scholarly interest in racial socialization is growing, but researchers’ understanding of how and when racial socialization relates to well-being is underdeveloped, particularly for multiracial populations. The present study investigated moderated mediation models to understand whether the indirect relations of egalitarian socialization to subjective well-being and self-esteem through integrated multiracial identification were conditional on phenotypic racial ambiguity among 383 multiracial adults. Tests of moderated mediation in primary analyses were significant for subjective well-being and self-esteem. Consistent with the hypotheses, egalitarian socialization was linked to a stronger multiracial integrated identity, which was positively associated with subjective well-being and self-esteem for those with moderate and high phenotypic racial ambiguity. This indirect effect was not significant for those reporting low phenotypic racial ambiguity. Results suggested a positive role of egalitarian socialization in relation to integrated identity and well-being for multiracial adults. This study highlights a culturally relevant pathway through which egalitarian socialization impacts well-being through racial identification for multiracial adults and the conditions of phenotypic racial ambiguity that contextualize this indirect effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Work as a calling: A theoretical model. - July 12, 2018
Perceiving work as a calling has been positioned as a key pathway to enhancing work-related well-being. However, no formal theory exists attempting to explain predictors and outcomes of living a calling at work. To address this important gap, this article introduces a theoretical, empirically testable model of work as a calling - the Work as Calling Theory (WCT) - that is suitable for the contemporary world of work. Drawing from research and theory in counseling, vocational, multicultural, and industrial-organizational psychology, as well as dozens of quantitative and qualitative studies on calling, the WCT is presented in three parts: (a) predictors of living a calling, (b) variables that moderate and mediate the relation of perceiving a calling to living a calling, and (c) positive (job satisfaction, job performance) and potentially negative (burnout, workaholism, exploitation) outcomes that result from living a calling. Finally, practical implications are suggested for counselors and managers, who respectively may seek to help clients and employees live a calling. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
When in doubt, sit quietly: A qualitative investigation of experienced therapists’ perceptions of self-disclosure. - July 12, 2018
Using consensual qualitative research (CQR), we analyzed 13 interviews of experienced psychotherapists about general intentions for therapist self-disclosure (TSD), experiences with successful TSDs, experiences with unsuccessful TSDs, and instances of unmanifested urges to disclose. For TSD generally (i.e., not about a specific instance), typical intentions were to facilitate exploration and build and maintain the therapeutic relationship. Therapists typically reported becoming more comfortable using TSD over time. In successful TSDs, the typical content was accurate, relevant similarities between therapist and client; typical consequences were positive. In unsuccessful TSDs, the typical antecedent was countertransference reactions; the typical intention was to provide support; typical content involved therapists mistakenly perceiving similarities with clients; and the general consequences were negative. In instances when therapists repressed the urge to disclose, the typical antecedent was countertransference and the content typically seemed relevant to the client’s issues. We conclude that effective use of TSD requires general attunement to the client’s dynamics, attunement to the client’s readiness in the moment, ability to manage countertransference, and ability to use a specific TSD appropriately. Implications for practice, training, and research are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Self-compassion buffers the link between self-criticism and depression in trauma-exposed firefighters. - June 21, 2018
Firefighters are frequently exposed to highly stressful, potentially traumatic events (PTEs). More than 50%, however, show no significant elevation in trauma-related symptomatology (e.g., depression). In the past, self-compassion has been discussed to promote psychological and behavioral flexibility that is vital to a successful adaptation to PTEs. The goal of this study was to understand whether and how self-compassion may alleviate personal suffering in the face of PTEs. We hypothesized that individuals who encounter their profession-related affective experiences with greater self-compassion, show lower levels of depressive symptoms because self-compassion buffers processes that perpetuate negative affectivity in response to PTEs (i.e., self-critical tendencies). Male firefighters (N = 123) completed self-report questionnaires about the severity of current depressive symptoms; prior traumatic, duty-related events; and the self-compassion scale that assesses two distinct factors: self-criticism and self-compassion. A stepwise regression model was employed to examine differential and interactive contributions of self-criticism and self-compassion to symptoms of depression across the cumulative range of exposure to PTEs. Our results indicate that the positive association between self-criticism and depression is buffered by enhanced levels of self-compassion. This moderation, however, only emerged for firefighters with substantial amounts of PTEs experience in the past. The present work provides insight into protective effects of self-compassion in the face of cumulative PTEs. It suggests that, particularly for severely trauma-exposed firefighters, self-compassion may confer resilience, that is, act as a protective factor from the development of depressive symptoms. Findings are discussed in light of counseling implications. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

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