I’ve been “holding space” (creating environments where clients can feel safe and supported while resolving important issues) for as long as I can remember. I am so accustomed to applying it in my work that, until recently, it never occurred to me to examine what the term really meant or how I actually went about doing it. For the most part, it was something I did spontaneously without a lot of thought.
At some point, however, I started taking notice of the language I was using when I referred to it. Two questions surfaced that I didn’t have answers to:
- How did the “holding” actually take place? I wasn’t cradling anything tangible in my hands, so how was I accomplishing the activity?
- What was in the “space I was holding?” What was being grasped—what constituted this thing I was somehow metaphorically clutching?
I began paying more attention to my own actions and talking to and observing other practitioners to find out what they did when holding space for clients. I found so many variations to what it meant and how to do it that I was left with more questions than answers.
Almost everyone I asked felt that holding space is a way to help clients come to their own conclusions without giving them answers or recommendations. Beyond that, however, I couldn’t find much similar ground. When it comes to processes or even definitions of key variables, there seems to be very little consistency in our professional community.
I finally determined that for many of us (myself included), there are essentially one of two approaches to holding space:
- We either go about it intuitively, without spending much time questioning or examining what we do, or
- We think through for ourselves how to do it, but we can’t explain our process with enough precision to give others specific guidance. As a result, many attempts to describe holding space come across as a bit esoteric.
I found myself squarely in the second category. Once I realized that I couldn’t adequately explain to myself, much less to anyone else, how I went about holding space, I felt an obligation to do something about it. That turned into a project of looking at my own experience to more clearly understand what was important for me about this activity and then sharing in the blog whatever I learned. Because Change Thinking is dedicated to exploring the who we are side of practicing our craft (as well as the what we do aspects), I sought to not only delve deeper into what holding space meant for me, but also to examine it through the lens of its relationship to character and presence.
The ensuing investigation proved to be far more extensive than I anticipated. When I finally finished the last draft, I realized what had unfolded didn’t fit within the blog format, so instead of releasing it in multiple postings, I decided to create an eBook that you can view or download here.
If holding space for clients is an intervention you are familiar with and have an interest in, I invite you to read the document. Please keep something in mind however—this is not an attempt to describe the “right” way to hold space; it is my view on one way. The intended audience for this blog is seasoned practitioners…most of whom are familiar with the concept, if not the practice, of holding space. I’m sharing my thoughts not as a model to necessarily adopt, but as an example of what can be learned when we explore for ourselves how we each engage the holding space process.
You may choose to incorporate some of the aspects I uncovered for myself into your practice, but that’s not my main purpose here. Ultimately, my hope is that by reading about my conclusions, you will be encouraged to initiate your own exploratory journey—to discover the elements in your process that you value and want to keep front and center as you support clients in this way.
If you are motivated to explore this aspect of your work, please share whatever you learn with others. Only by offering our perspectives to each other about this activity can we advance toward a deeper understanding that will benefit all of us.