In gestalt psychotherapy we sometimes use creative means by which to explore what someone is talking about. The creative means, also called a ‘gestalt experiment’ encourages a moving closer to actual experience rather than keeping distance with the “about”.
This can be both thrilling and scary and there needs to be enough support in the therapeutic relationship for the process to be useful.
The creative experiment
The creative experiment can challenge the person to step into a very new experience, with the support of awareness.
And by being “in” the experience, change can occur in the moment of the therapy rather than as a consequence of talking something through (which can also lead to change).
What can happen in the experiment is that something does happen. This something is an integration of behaviour, emotion and thought, and can feel very different to talking about something.
It is similar to the function of play in child development and can be seen as serving a function of therapeutic development. Consequentially, I sometimes wonder whether much adult strife and unhappiness can be likened to having lost the permission or capacity to play?
Two chair work
One of these experiments is called two chair work and is particularly effective for exploring psychological conflicts.
For example you may have a dialogue with yourself which goes something along the lines of “I should do x, but I want to do y”. Or the other way around; “I don’t want to do x, but I should do x”.
In gestalt therapy this is called “top dog/under dog” and the top dog is often the “voice of the shoulds” with the under-dog resisting the “should”. If you recognise this in yourself then two chair work could be a useful tool for you.
By using the two chairs to sit in and experience each position fully, much can be discovered. For example you may discover that you feel very powerful in the under-dog chair and that you feel punishing towards the figure on the other chair. And then you might notice that in that other chair you see/imagine a parent or other authority figure. By moving to that position you might get a sense of some of the strong messages that have come from your parents that are not serving you now. And so the experiment goes on.
What is important in working this way is that whatever emerges is part of the process including any resistance. And then this in itself becomes the experiment.