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What Does "Holding Space" Mean?

Recently a friend shared with me that she didn’t understand what “Holding Space” meant, and that perhaps there were others who were uncertain as well. This was a helpful reminder.

For me, the concept of “holding space” is an embodied feeling that can be difficult to describe in words. It is the feeling of having all the parts of yourself, especially those that don’t usually have the limelight, or even come out of the shadows, of being embraced.

A time I vividly remember experiencing this was when I first saw my somatic therapist, Kris, in January of 2009. It was a few weeks after our first child was born, which happened 2 weeks after my dad died. I was not in good shape. My body wasn’t working right after a difficult birth, and more than an hour of sleep at a time was a distant memory. My world had been twisted and flipped outside down and I didn't feel like there was ground beneath me.

I remember how Kris’ presence allowed me to soften and to cry for the first time since my dad’s death. She offered me care, love, wisdom and support. My healing journey took a long time, but Kris’ gift of holding space for every part of me - the grief, panic, exhaustion, despair, joy and confusion I was carrying - was essential to the process. Her ability to hold space for me allowed emotions and feelings to move, to be metabolized, to be transformed.

For me, this experience brings up images from the natural world- how a womb or seed holds space for new life, how a nourishing patch of dirt allows a seedling to grow, or the common metaphor of a chrysalis providing protection and nutrients for metamorphosis.

In our practice, there are many ways we hold space for our clients. As a therapist, when an individual or couple arrives, I widen my lens to welcome all the parts of them. I continue to bring this welcome if a calm, in-control client expresses boiling rage. I bring this welcoming compassion if someone who has been struggling with years of anger shares a part of themself that feels like a scared little kid. While therapy is a secular job, there is something holy about these experiences. Rather than turning away from the hard places or big feelings, I welcome them, bringing a loving, attentive, non-judgmental presence.

From my own experience, I know that this is how we heal, grow, and find our way forward.

To learn more about what services Holding Space for Change offers, click here.

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