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  • Writer's pictureMonique Goss

5 Ways To Hold EMOTIONAL SPACE For Someone

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

This post is for all the physical therapists out there who provide a plethora of support for their patients physically but also know they are indirectly offering emotional support in consultations.

Throughout my yoga training I learned what it was really like to hold space for a person. To be an emotional support without being intrusive to someone’s life or providing analysis that was beyond my practitioner or yoga teacher scope.

It can be subtle or depending on the patient, even sometimes blatantly obvious that your support for a patient goes well beyond that of the physical body. Emotions can rule a person's body and of course their health outcomes. But as practitioners explicitly trained in manual therapy, how exactly do we create emotional support for our patients without crossing the line of what our profession offers? In this post I explore what holding space for a patient looks like for me within my osteopathic scope.

Here are some really easy and effective ways to “be there” emotionally for your patients whilst maintaining practitioner boundaries.

1. Listen without judgement

It can be almost involuntary to create prejudices on a person as soon as you meet them. Without even knowing you’re doing it, you’ve likely created a judgement on your patient from the moment you call their name in the waiting room or even earlier than that, from the moment you saw their name and basic information in your schedule. You probably aren’t even aware you do this but unknowingly you’ve already created an internal bias towards a person before they’ve told you anything about themselves. So the best thing you can do is try to listen to them wholeheartedly while being aware of these biases. We can never fully understand the complexities of another person's situation or even the series of events that has resulted in them being in your treatment room. So listen with an open mind and avoid casting your personal opinions on their experiences.

2. Listen without interruption

Similarly to the above, it can be exceptionally tempting to offer further conversation or seek further clarification of a story or experience that your patient is sharing. While this can be seen as interest or building patient rapport it can also take away from the moment of empowerment for a patient. Remember, you as a practitioner are in a position of responsibility and authority within the treatment room and therefore have a power imbalance with your patients. Interrupting or further questioning can be viewed with no ‘opt out’ option for your patients. So let them speak and don’t feel the need to find out more than what they are willing to provide. There can be potency in space and even more so in the silence of a conversation to allow someone to feel truly heard.

3. Don’t offer advice

We aren’t here to create solutions for our patients' problems (obviously with the exception of their physical body). You can be a support to someone while NOT taking away their empowerment to problem solve for themselves. Offering advice does exactly that- takes away a patient's self discovery and own resolution from them. Listen without the need to respond or give your opinions and advice- this is what holding space is.

4. Avoid relating to yourself

One of the most intuitive things to do when someone shares a story is to discuss how something has been similar in your own life. Similar to the above point, when you start involving your own experiences you immediately turn the gaze of the conversation to yourself. This is what we are trying to avoid. So no matter how perfect your personal anecdote may be, keep it to yourself and even use it to practise internally cultivating empathy. Keep the spotlight on your patient and their needs, exactly as you would when treating their physical body.

5. Thank them for sharing

This seems simple but can be potent. Rather, than judging, relating or advising, simply thank them for sharing their story. And be truly genuine in the thanks. Take a moment to feel their vulnerabilities, their honesty, their whole being and appreciate that they’ve shared something with you. That can be enough to be an emotional support to your patients. I’ve learned throughout my time as an osteopath that the less I offer in response the more potent the communication can be.

It goes without saying, if you believe your patients need more emotional support than what you can offer professionally, you need to refer them to a practitioner who can. Having a list of resources readily available for clients, be it local clinics and/or online resources and hotlines allows ease in access for your clients to these services.

This is a constant practice for me in holding space for my clients. I certainly do not find it easy but I know that it is important. I’d love to hear if you have other tips for creating emotional space for your clients.

Monique Goss


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