Sometimes, despite all of our aromatherapy or herbalism or health coaching training, the most important thing we can do with a client is hold space for them. Holding space isn't an action most of us were raised understanding. But it's critical if we are to help others change their lifestyles.
Let's start with what we mean by "holding space."
Holding space refers to the ability of a health professional to observe and perhaps most importantly, to validate the experiences and emotions of the client without judgement and without centering yourself–otherwise known as making it all about you.
In short, holding space for someone means truly being present with them, including their struggles.
Being able to sit with a client, listen to their fears, frustrations, experiences, and perceptions, without judgement, without instructing them, without inserting yourself into their situation.... is not an easy feat. It's human nature to share our own stories in the name of "relating" to their journey. And it's our professional training to share wisdom, solutions, and holistic health tools that can solve their problem.
But before you can solve their problem, you have to understand their problem. That's why the first pillar in the FSIHS Six Pillar Method is to Engage. Listening, accepting, and holding space tells the client that they matter. It builds trust. It creates a safe space where the client knows they can share anything. And that is what leads to lasting client-coach relationships.
One of the most common mistakes self-trained holistic health professionals make is asserting themselves into the role of leader. Modeling their practice after the modern medical system, they treat clients like patients and essentially diagnose, treat, and prescribe without a license.
But the art and science of holistic health requires a different paradigm. We recognize that trying to solve other people's problems is a method of stripping them of their own power and self efficacy. We recognize that bombarding them with shoulds and dontcha knows doesn't lead to change; it produces shame which leads to shutting down. And we know that pouring our vast quantity of expertise on them overwhelms them, bombarding them with far more information than they are ready to receive or utilize.
Effective health promotion takes a different approach. By holding space, we empower clients to make their own health related decisions. We work to strip away shame by offering unconditional acceptance and modeling empathy. We gently guide and lead them to achieve health one step at a time, delivering just enough information and support to take the next step rather than overwhelming them with the entirety of health related options available to them. We listen, even when they are not talking, creating a space of unconditional acceptance within which they can share their health related fears, goals, and struggles.
This skill is one that requires practice. It isn't a habit we can develop overnight. But through constant self-work, and a bit of the same compassion we provide our clients, we can master the art and science of holding space for others. And holding space–being fully present–is at the heart of a successful holistic health practice.