On Holding Space

By: Jenny Glozman  MA, PhD, RMFT RP

The act of “holding space” for someone can be an incredibly helpful skill, and a gift to your family and friends. The concept of “holding space” is another therapy buzz word that has been floating around for years. But what does holding space really mean, why should you work on it, and how do you even do it? We break it down for you here:

 So, what does it mean to hold space? 

To be present for someone mentally, emotionally, and physically, and allow them to fully express themselves without judgment. 

Why should we hold space for others? 

Many of us find it extremely hard to watch someone we care about experience deep emotional and psychological pain. Because of this, there is often a strong desire to do or say something to fix it and make them feel better. Ironically, this impulse is often experienced as dismissing and minimizing by the very person you want to help and comfort. Usually, unless stated otherwise, people just want to feel heard and seen and feel like they’re not alone in their pain. Holding space can give that to your loved ones.

So what can you do? How do you actually hold space?

Holding space as a concept can be broken down into 5 guidelines; 4 do’s and 1 don’t:

1. Do listen deeply and without judgment: listen not just to hear, but to understand. Put your own agenda aside and don’t worry about what you’re going to say or do. Just listen. Try to deeply understand what the other person is going through. Reflecting back what they’re saying is a good way to stay present. 

2. Do have awareness of your own thoughts and feelings: try to be aware of what’s happening for you internally (your thoughts and feelings that are coming up). This will help you feel more in control of how you behave in response to what the other person is expressing. 

3. Do self-soothe during the conversation: do what you need to self-soothe and address the feelings that are coming up for you during the conversation (helplessness, confusion, frustration, etc). Using deep breathing or a grounding technique is a good place to start. 

4. Do offer validation: Validation is not the same thing as agreeing with someone! You don’t have to agree with what the other person is saying to validate how they’re feeling about it. You might feel differently if you were going through the same thing, and that’s ok. Try to understand why they are feeling the way they are feeling, their unique experience of it, and then reflect it back and validate. 

5. Don’t try to fix it: Remember that whatever it is they are going through they have more intimate knowledge of it and have spent more time thinking about it than you. So, unless they explicitly ask, do not problem solve. Trust that in time (and with the help of someone holding space for them!) they will work through it themselves.

We hope this was helpful! If you’re in need of someone to hold space for you, reach out to our clinic to be matched with a therapist.