What is chairwork?

Chairwork is a therapeutic technique derived from Gestalt therapy. Chairwork can take several forms, though it and generally uses two chairs and role play. Two common chairwork scenarios are:

  • Empty chair: The client acts as though a person from their life is in the empty chair, and speak to them as if they were there.

  • Two chairs: The client moves back and forth between two chairs, either acting out both parts of the role play, or having an imagined conversation with two different parts of themselves.

Chairwork can be effective in efforts to better understand the point of view of others, or to navigate feelings around “unfinished business,” such as abandonment and abuse.

Chairwork can be incorporated into many other modalities, including Gestalt therapy, process-experiential therapy, re-decision therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and schema therapy. It is typically introduced as part of a long-term therapeutic relationship, within the context of ongoing treatment.


How does chairwork work?

Clients work directly with their therapists to identify an unresolved conflict – either internal, or with someone else. Clients work through the conflict using role play techniques.

What are the goals of chairwork treatment?

Chairwork invites clients to more directly confront what they’re dealing with. It is designed to reduce a variety of issues, including self-criticism, rumination, shame, indecision, and unresolved feelings towards others.

How is a typical chairwork session structured?

Chairwork can take several overlapping forms, each incorporating the use of two chairs to represent either two different people or two different parts of one self.

When exploring two sides of the self (for instance, the part of the client that wants to make a change and the part of the client that does not want to make the change), a client can work through internal conflict or indecision by seeing two sides at the same time.

Empty chairwork is used to work through “unfinished business,” such as an unresolved conflict with a loved one -- particularly one stemming from neglect and abandonment or abuse and trauma. The therapist follows the client’s lead and brings in the chair when appropriate to facilitate a dialogue between self and other -- someone who is included in the conversation in an imaginary sense, represented by the empty chair. To adequately represent both the self and the other, the client alternates between the chairs to play both roles.

What can chairwork help with?

Chairwork has been used in the treatment of:

With support and guidance from the therapist, the client creates a dialogue and grows to process experiences and emotions, and learns to more confidently assert themself, understand the viewpoint of others, forgive, and hold others accountable.

How can I find chairwork therapists?

Find therapists who practice chairwork near you on Zencare below. Search by fees and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find a therapist who fits your preferences!

To expand your search, find therapists who practice Gestalt Therapy, a similar type of therapy to chairwork that chairwork is derived from:

Can’t find a therapist who fit your needs? Here are tips on how to find a therapist!