Holding Space by MaryAnn Fragola, DNP

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Holding Space by MaryAnn Fragola, DNP Photo

I recently had both the pleasure and the opportunity to work with our new palliative and supportive care provider. The NYCBS palliative and supportive care program continues to grow for those who are not aware. We have added a provider to serve the Central Park and Eastchester locations, Dr. Cristian Zanartu. In the short time we collaborated, we discussed many important elements specific to our patient population. In some of my encounters, he mentioned how I was “holding space” with my patients. By definition,” holding space” means being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone. It means focusing on someone to support them as they feel their feelings, which allowed me to reflect on the care we give. Holding space is a challenge to many. I say challenge because it is a difficult therapeutic process that many providers find uneasy or uncomfortable. These encounters can be different for everyone. When patients face bad news, sadness, or anger, we naturally look to reassure them, but sometimes if the news is really bad and not what they are expecting, we need to let them process their thoughts. We need to be silent and hold space.

A recent article I read stated that it was important not to run out of the room after telling someone they had a terminal disease with minimal time left. What was important was that you said nothing. Instead, you sit there and provide support by sitting with them next to their emotions. You hold space. Sometimes, you sit for 2 minutes and sometimes 10 minutes while saying nothing. It feels like an impossibly long time, but you are bearing the weight of that news by just sitting there, holding space. “Holding space” does not fix the problem, control the situation, make the other person feel inadequate, or directly impact the outcome. Instead, healing occurs as this space is held, and individuals experience the freedom to open their hearts without being judged, shamed, overwhelmed, or to have their power taken away.

For this holiday season, hold space. Be there physically, emotionally, spiritually. However, you need to be, to be with your loved ones. Enjoy the moments, enjoy the time as that is the greatest gift of the season!