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What Does It Mean To Hold Space For Someone?

holding space as a leader


The idea of “holding space” has become increasingly popular in psychotherapy and wellness counseling. But what exactly does it mean to hold space for someone? As therapists and counselors in Florida, we are often asked how to hold space for clients, groups, partners, and loved ones.

In this comprehensive guide, we will uncover the meaning of holding space, why it’s vital in therapy, and 5 tips for holding space successfully.

What Does It Mean to “Hold Space”?

Holding space refers to being fully present for someone during a difficult time without trying to “fix” their problems. As Heather Plett, author of The Art of Holding Space, defines it, holding space means “Being prepared to sit with someone in pain, without trying to fix them, save them, or make it better.”

Rather than giving advice, solving issues, or steering the other person, holding space is about meeting them where they are and supporting them unconditionally. It creates a safe environment for the other person to go through their journey, make choices, and process emotions without fear of judgment.

Holding space isn’t about you or your comfort. As Plett explains, “It’s not about being in charge of their emotions or their journey. It’s about recognizing that their pain, their journey, is not about you. It’s about meeting them where they are and being a sounding board or a hand to hold.”

5 Tips for Holding Space Effectively

Holding space sounds simple, but it can be challenging to put into practice. Here are some tips for holding space as a leader, therapist, counselor, partner, or caregiver:

1. Be fully present and attuned

Bring your full attention to the person and the space you share with them. Make eye contact, put away distractions, and focus completely on the moment. Allow yourself to be open and affected by what they share. Eliminate anything that could divide your attention, like cell phones, clocks, or thoughts about what you will say next. Tune into the person’s verbal and nonverbal cues to connect deeply with their emotional experience.

2. Listen deeply without judgment

Listen to understand, not to respond. Allow the person to experience their emotions fully. Resist the urge to interject advice or lessons. Set aside your biases and opinions to accept the other person exactly as they are at this moment. Listen with not just your ears but your whole being – mind, body, heart, and spirit. Let their words stir a visceral sense of shared humanity within you.

3. Allow for silence

Give space for stillness between you and the other person. Silence allows them to go deeper inward to access wisdom and insight. Avoid rushing to fill quiet moments. Sit comfortably with pauses, without pressure to speak or problem-solve. Silence can be profound and transformative when held with care and presence.

4. Release the need to “fix”

Your role is to support, not solve or control outcomes. Offer empathy and compassion while empowering the other person’s own authority in their healing process. Beware of the urge to take over or rescue them from discomfort. Instead, help them sit with pain, knowing they have strength within. Trust their inner capacity for insight and growth.

5. Be aware of your own “stuff”

Notice when your own anxieties or triggers come up. Refrain from making another’s experience all about you. Seek your own support if needed so you can refocus your energy on the other with full presence. Holding space requires mindfulness of our own emotional baggage and limitations. Know when you need to step back and care for yourself first before holding space for someone else.

Why Is Holding Space Important for Therapists and Counselors?

For therapists and counselors, the ability to hold space is a crucial skill. Holding space allows us to establish trust and rapport with clients, creating a safe therapeutic environment. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Allows clients to open up and be vulnerable: When clients feel completely accepted and heard without judgment, they are more likely to share openly and authentically. Holding space gives clients permission to be vulnerable and work through challenges at their own pace.
  • Cultivates trust in the therapeutic relationship: By being fully present and attuned to the client, the therapist demonstrates genuine care, empathy, and commitment. This builds trust in the relationship, which is the foundation of successful therapy.
  • Supports clients in their own growth/healing: Rather than telling clients what to do, holding space allows them to get in touch with their own inner wisdom. The therapist’s role is to walk alongside and support clients as they do their own healing work.
  • Models unconditional positive regard: Therapists who hold space embody unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by Carl Rogers. This total acceptance and valuing of clients communicates deep respect.
  • Allows for better group dynamics: In group therapy or workshops, holding space helps members feel safe to participate. When group leaders embody presence without judgment, it allows for more authentic relating between members.

Holding Space Enhances Connection in The Workplace

The ability to hold space with presence and unconditional positive regard is a personal and professional gift. Holding space builds trust in therapy and counseling, allowing for deeper therapeutic work.

In the workplace, holding space helps cultivate an environment where all members feel safe to share vulnerably. Leaders who embody grounded, empathic presence enable richer group dynamics.

If you are interested in learning how the power of holding space can transform your organization, contact the executive coaching advisors at The Norfus Firm today.

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