City Lit; Review on Working With Chairs (Gestalt) 1 Day Course

by Mental Movement Magazine
gestalt chair work

I spent the day at City Lit on their ‘Gestalt; Working with Chairs’, day course – here’s everything you need to know! 

Last September we were lucky enough to be invited down to participate in City Lit’s Mental Wealth Festival where we spent two days mingling with the crowds talking about Mental Movement.

Whilst there, I noticed a table offering all sorts of courses relating to mental health, wellbeing and fitness. Grabbing all the leaflets I could, I quickly began to skim through all they had to offer and was actually quite blown away by the variety offered.

As a trainee counsellor and therapist myself, learning outside of my hours of study is imperative to my professional life. Aside from absolutely loving the educational process and current place I study, I needed to find a place that offered the right vibe for me, to extend my learning and capabilities. A positive, uplifting and inspiring space. Somewhere that would almost certainly increase my wellbeing and with this alone, City Lit had already won me over.

If you’ve been to any universities or colleges in London, you might have taken note of the hostile, intimidating and somewhat officious attitudes at reception. I judge every place on their reception and believe the staff placed in reception are the frontline for your business/university/etc, so, I always take note of how I’m treated as soon as I enter any building.

I wasn’t sure if the warm reception from staff at City Lit at the Mental Wealth Festival were the result of pre-training leading up until the event, you know, ‘be on your top form for the two days please’ kind of deal but no, when I arrived for my course once again they were instantly helpful, warm and offered various ways of helping me when getting familiar with where my course was being held. Big up City Lit reception staff!

The first course I decided to embark upon with City Lit was, ‘Gestalt; Working with Chairs’. My interest in Gestalt came from covering a tiny aspect of his work during class at college, my fascination with the techniques soon evolved as a few hours of Gestalt was just not enough. Previously, I’d been pretty sceptical about Gestalt techniques, especially the chair work, as the current therapy I’m receiving unsuccessfully explored this with me and I found it extremely hard to engage with it, this is especially hard when I’m very detached.

With that said, I was keen to explore it one last time from a different perspective to see if I could understand the technique better and take something away from the course that I could then utilise with future clients.

As per usual, starting something new can be extremely daunting and this is heightened immensely when you are dealing with your own mental health issues. Anxiety once again reared its ugly head and was practically eating me alive. I was extremely nervous about the prospect of meeting new people and was plagued with worry that I wouldn’t know anything, I’d be the only one that didn’t understand something or what if they ask me something and I don’t know the answer. Just the usual education related anxiety but, 100 times worse.

With things like this, I always get up super early so I have enough time to faff, change outfits 30 times and gage the set up of the whole place/course/building etc (a little tip from my other half). I was the first one there. A million thoughts continued to race through my mind about who would be attending, what will everyone be like, is the teacher going to be nice along with the usual hyperbolic thoughts that enter my mind on a daily.

Soon enough, the other students began arriving; my anxiety was literally going up and down. The tutor arrived, his name was Dennis L. Carney. One of the other students mentioned she had had Dennis before on another course and said he was really funny. I was definitely relieved when she said he was funny, as humour is such a natural anxiety reliever for me. From the moment he walked in to the room he had a massive presence and his energy touched us all. I almost immediately felt excited and ready to start the day.

The session began with talking to the person next to us by telling them our name, how we were feeling and why we are doing this day course. We carried this on with a few different peers. We then went on to discussing in a group what we wanted out of this day. After watching a short video about Fritz Perls, the founder of the Gestalt Approach, a discussion opened about our thoughts quickly followed.

For those unfamiliar with Gestalt or Chair Work, I highly recommend watching the video below to get a real idea about what the technique involves. Essentially, it is a conversation with yourself – acted out through alternating between two chairs. Scott Kellogg, PhD, psychotherapist at the Cognitive Therapy Center of New York explains “Chairwork really is an exciting and creative approach to change and healing. When used judiciously and with clinical sensitivity, it has the power to transform and liberate patients in deep and profound ways.”

Throughout the day, as the class began to relax and get to know each other – the course became a really enjoyable experience. There were only two males on the course, so it was pretty female heavy but the dynamic flowed well with the perfect instruction of a really great tutor, after each short break for a drink/lunch I felt more and more inspired by what I was learning, as the William Arthur Ward quote goes, “the mediocre teachers tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires” and he couldn’t be more right. So often I’ve failed to learn because teachers have pretty much failed to really teach. I always appreciate a great teacher and will continue to sing the high praises of Dennis, who really is a fantastic asset to City Lit as a tutor.

This course allows you to explore the inner workings of working with chairs (as seen in the video above). Be prepared to look deep within yourself. For me, this was a very powerful experience and actually quite emotional to explore. A lot of people in the class found the experience of chair work quite an emotional experience; although largely a very positive emotional experience. You are encouraged to practice chair work with one another after a short demonstration given by Dennis and a volunteer (don’t worry, you won’t be the only one reluctant to step forward and Dennis is very understanding towards this). Lots of interesting discussions, practicing techniques and power-points and videos will assist your learning throughout the day.

I felt this course attracted a really humanitarian group of people who had all faced their own difficulties in life, all of which had contributed to their attendance in some way. The varying levels of education, professions and life experience only further enriched the group and it was a pleasure to meet and study with these lovely people.

This course is perfect for anyone interested in counselling and psychotherapy, mentors, coaches and/or anyone with an open mind who is willing to experiment to help others or themselves. It’s a great technique to learn and utilise with clients. I do however personally believe that you really have to have an open mind to engage with this technique and being open minded about chair work was really fundamental to my own learning experience. Although my anxiety had caused me a rather draining start, by the end of the day I felt invigorated, inspired and excited to leave and share my knowledge with my friends and family. It’s also ignited a real interest in Gestalt and I can’t wait to learn more about his work.

For more information on courses like this at City Lit, please click here. 

To learn more about the tutor of this course, please click here. 

References: Kellogg, S. H. (2007). Transformational chairwork: Five ways of using therapeutic dialogues. NYSPA Notebook, 19 (4), 8-9.

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