Vita Health

What Does Holding Space Actually Mean?

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. 

To me, holding space means walking alongside someone. You’re not leading or directing. You’re not following. You’re not even offering mentorship or advice. 

You’re just walking. 

The big work associated with holding space is about managing your own emotions. 

Think about it. If you’re holding space for someone, obviously you care about them. You want to be empathic and offer support. 

But what they say might make you feel defensive, fatigued, or otherwise uncomfortable. And, because you care, their negative feelings might bring you down — which, naturally, all humans want to avoid.

So, to successfully hold space for someone, you have to limit your emotional response. 

You can do this by shifting your mindset. 

Think of yourself like an observer in the situation. And your conversation partner’s experiences or emotions are a treasure. Something allowing you greater insight into who they are. 

Their experiences aren’t about you. Their feelings don’t have to become yours.

This isn’t easy. It takes practice and commitment. 

And that’s actually one of the reasons therapy is so valuable. 

We’re trained to hold space and we practice it daily. 

But when you work on this for a friend, family member, or colleague, you’re establishing yourself as a safe place to come when things get hard.

This is particularly valuable if you're a people manager. During 1:1 meetings, you can shift from thinking you need to fix your team member's problems to simply holding space — especially when their challenges aren't work related. 

Tomorrow, we'll get tactical on how to hold space for someone else. In the meantime, ask me any questions in our social post. I'm eager to know what questions you have. 

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