Holding Space for Others
By AlternativeRelief in Mental Health
Holding space for somebody else is a powerful way to offer healing, understanding, and compassion. We sometimes want to help people fix things or solve a problem, when what they really need is simply to be seen and heard. This post comes from Elizabeth Sockolov, a therapist in Petaluma, California who has been leading groups discussing grief and loss with young adults. Elizabeth works at a local high school completing her hours, and many of the families and children have been impacted by the the wildfires in Sonoma County.
What Does it Mean to Hold Space
Holding space for somebody doesn’t take any crazy credentials or skills. When we hold space, we simply show up and offer ourselves for someone. This may mean simply listening, providing a safe place where a person can talk about their experience, or offering a type of refuge where the person can be authentic. We can hold space in a number of ways.
Perhaps the best way is by practicing active listening. This is a technique in which we listen to somebody speak and respond in a way that lets them know we are truly hearing them. It’s important to understand that holding space does not necessarily mean we respond, offer advice, or tell people what to do.
Sometimes, people don’t need advice or suggestions. Some experiences or people just need somewhere they can express what they are feeling. As is the case with the recent fires here in Sonoma County, many people just want to express their grief, fear, and loss. The person may not even know what they want to talk about, or even understand entirely what they are going through.
Although there are many benefits of therapy, one of the most relevant ones to holding space is that individuals are offered the opportunity to process emotions and difficult experiences in a new way. Just by holding space, we allow somebody the opportunity to authentically process their experience.
Sometimes, when we allow somebody the chance to really investigate safely what they are going through, they can have quite the breakthrough. They may not always have an obvious epiphany, but the act of holding space for an individual can allow some healing to begin. I’ve had sessions where the client doesn’t even want to talk, and i think these are still useful. At the very least the person knows that there is a safe place to which they may return when they are ready or desperate.
How Can You Hold Space?
You can hold space for friends in times of need. There are a few important things to remember when making an effort to hold space for someone.
Don’t Force Anything
First, holding space is a gentle act. Don’t try to force the person to have any insight or specific experience. Part of offering space is just resting in receptivity. Be present with the intention to hold space, not to fix anyone or force any specific outcome.
Don’t Push Your Suggestions
In psychotherapy, we try to steer clear of telling people what to do. This is a good thing to remember when being there for friends or members of your community. If somebody does have a question or something they are trying to figure out, try to help them figure it out for themselves, but don’t just tell them what to do. If they specifically ask for your suggestion, give it, but don’t push it!
Be patient with your friend. The goal of holding space isn’t to fix the person or rush anything. A lot of pain and difficulties take time to figure out. We don’t heal or cure ourselves overnight. If the person is struggling, allow them to struggle for the moment. Your job isn’t to fix anyone with holding space. The healing takes time, and we can allow the process to unfold without growing impatient with the person.
Listen, and Show You’re Listening
Finally, really try to be present and listen. Listening is more than just hearing. Be with the person and what they’re saying. Listen to them, let them know you’re hearing, and show that you understand what they are saying. If you have a question, ask!