Actor Clint Eastwood addresses an empty chair during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa (Photo : Reuters)
However strange Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention was, it was far from original. The actor, 82, put on an unexpected show when he began speaking to an empty chair occupied by an "invisible Obama" on Thursday. What you may not know is that Eastwood's surprising approach echoes a decades old therapy technique used by psychologists to compel patients to examine unexplored aspects of their thoughts.
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The "empty chair" method of therapy, originally developed by Gesalt Psychologist Fritz Perls in the 1940s, sets out to focus patients on the here and now, detaching their thoughts from the past. The spontaneous nature of the technique helps to engage feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
Gesalt Psychology is based off of the idea that the brain is holistic, underlining the philosophy that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
The theory behind the approach suggests that, by having a conversation with ourselves and assuming the role of "the other", the patient engages with "disowned parts" of their personality. When a patient must process how to respond to their self, the dialogue will ideally turn from abstractions and allow for a rawer, unfiltered form of expression.
In a Q & A session on Psychology Today, Dan Bloom of the Association for the Advancement of Gesalt Therapy explains that "this technique often brings clients into present or immediate experiences. Abstractions or verbalizations become enlivened moments. Clients may be able to experience different aspects of their own conflicts in a new manner through empty-chair dialogue."
Eastwood's speech is largely regarded as a tonal shift in the RNC, a moment that threw the meeting out of balance and failed to compliment Mitt Romney's message. In the midst of speakers with sweeping rhetoric about the shortcomings of the Obama administration, and the inspiring power of American "exceptionalism," the actor opted to explore his own psychology in a public forum. Perhaps we should shift our focus away from the way Eastwood delivered his speech, and turn our attention towards why we were captivated by his performance. The man is an actor, after all.