Vita Health

How Do I Hold Space for Someone?

We're exploring the concept of holding space -- both personally and professionally -- in this four-part series. 

Author: Cydney Swadinsky, LPC

Cydney is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She holds a National Certified Counselor certification through NBCC and is working with Vita as a mental health therapist. 

Everyone will talk about holding space a bit differently.

For me, holding space requires awareness, connection, and listening & responding. 

Awareness is about focusing your attention on the person who needs you. It’s that cue to think like an observer, instead of being intimately involved. You are distancing yourself from your own immediate reactions, creating an opportunity for connection. 

You connect by viewing a person's experiences and emotions as precious and valuable. Connection is the heart of holding space. Focus on how much you care about the other person and keep circling back to that idea of acting like an observer. This will help you keep any negative reactions at bay.

Now that you’re aware and connecting, it’s time to listen and respond. We all know how to listen. It’s actually the responding part that’s tricky when holding space for someone. 

I recommend using reflective responses. There are three steps! 

1) Rephrase and reflect what you’ve heard using the person’s own verbiage.

Example 1: “Oh man, so what I’m hearing is that you’re feeling particularly confused and upset about your friends not calling you anymore.”

Example 2: "What I hear you saying that you're feeling overwhelmed with projects right now. Is that correct?"

2) Ask clarifying questions. 

Example 1: “Is it all of your friends or just some?” or “When is the last time you’ve heard from them?” 

Example 2: "What projects or work streams are currently your responsibility? Do you want to make a list together?"

3) Validate and normalize their feelings. 

Example 1: “It sounds like you’re going through a lot right now. I’m so sorry and I’m here for you…no matter what.” 

Example 2: "We've all been there professionally -- feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to tackle next Please know that I'm hear for you. We can work together on prioritization if you'd like."

Before we wrap up, I want to caution you against trying to solve the person’s problems or resolve their emotions. Seeking resolution can actually create distance instead of connection — especially when someone just needs to talk and feel validated. This is especially true in parent-child relationships but it's also true with colleagues. Sometimes our teammates just want to be heard.

I’m going to give you a tactic to try. 

Whenever you’re just itching to solve a problem or offer up ideas, force yourself to ask this question first: “Do you want to brainstorm solutions or do you just want to talk?” 

If the answer is “just talk,” you know it’s time to hold space for the other person’s experiences and emotions!

Tomorrow, you’ll learn other cues for when holding space is necessary!  


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