The chessboard metaphor is widely used within Self as Context and provides an easy way of discussing the perspective of the observer.
The chessboard metaphor has two opposing teams. We introduce this metaphor by placing a chess piece on the board and suggest that the piece represents something positive about the client or his identity. The opposing ‘team’ jumps in and places a piece on the board that counters that. We go backwards and forwards and a struggle between the two sides goes on. The more we fight, the more fused we become with our thoughts being who we are.
With a client, have the client put the positive comments forward, with you immediately countering with negative comments. A battle of opposing armies ensues.
Self as Context promotes the concept that we are the context, the perspective taker, observer or witness. If we become the content, even if it is positive or beneficial at the time, we are going to feel the content from the other side as it counters what we say and we get drawn into the struggle. Self as Context asks what would it be like if we stopped having this fight and we put ourselves in the position of the chessboard. Would it matter whether the commentaries or pieces were moving forward on either side? What would it be like to be the chessboard? Would it matter who wins or loses? The idea is to recognise that we wouldn’t fuse with the content (either individual pieces or the struggle) but would perceive it as a temporary experience that is happening on the board (the context) – and will pass.
It is useful to have a chessboard and pieces to enact this exercise when introducing this concept to a client. It enables an effective illustration, especially when using pieces to counter comments. We can move the pieces and generate a struggle. When a client takes the position of the board, it will be you as therapist who moves all the pieces, playing oneself, so that the game becomes pointless and comical. We want to encourage our clients to hold the chessboard.
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