One of the first things many couples ask upon first meeting me, is: “What is the deal with these crazy rolling chairs you’ve got?”
As a PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy) therapist, my process is to create internal state changes in session that mirror the ways my clients feel outside of session when in conflict. We do so through psychodrama, poses, and exercises created specifically by the founder of this couple therapy approach, Stan Tatkin, PsyD. Doing so allows the members of the couple to understand and depersonalize their actions in relationship with each other, based on an understanding of their attachment orientation and arousal regulation mechanisms. With a deeper of each other, I help them create new ways to support each other and develop a more secure functioning relationship.
These crazy rolling chairs serve as an assessment tool in this therapy that I use to observe the couple rolling closer or farther apart in response to each other, whether they turn away from each other, and many permutations. Often the members of the couple have no awareness of these movements and by just pointing these movements out, they learn about one another and their relationship. In all cases, these movements mirror the dance they engage in outside of session. For example, when talking about a difficult topic, one or both members of the couple may push their chairs back from the other to get space. When this is pointed out, the couple has the opportunity to reflect on whether they meant to do so, what message they might have been sending, and observe their partner's reaction. Simply in this close observation and reflection, couples learn a great deal about themselves and the ways they work together (or don’t!).
I also use these chairs strategically to move the couple closer together, thereby facilitating a nervous system state change. Because couples get stuck in their habits and long-established patterns, I will often place couples in poses they are not used to. For example, I will have a couple roll their chairs very close to one another, have them hold hands, maintain eye contact and just notice aloud what they see in each other’s faces. Doing so creates a great deal of connection, and after a few moments, the couple can be seeing and sharing things with their partner that they have not done in a very long time.
These chairs are invaluable tools in my couples work, and while the couch (and floor!) does get used, it is these chairs that serve as the grounding spot for much of our work together.