Holding Space

Written by: Center for Body Trust

Years ago, I came across this idea that our presence—the way we hold space for people—is the most motivating thing about us.

In Motivational Interviewing, we often talk about the spirit and the skills. You can do the skills, like ask open-ended questions, but if you don’t embody the spirit of MI when you ask these kinds of questions, it’s not motivational interviewing.

The metaphor Dancing versus Wrestling is used to describe the spirit of MI, which has four key characteristics:

Partnership: Creating a collaboration between two experts.
Acceptance: Talking with people with unconditional positive regard.
Compassion: Doing our work in the interest of the individual.
Evocation: Believing everyone has motivation that can be brought out over time.

This article, What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone, does a great job of reminding us not to lose sight of the spirit of MI. The author writes:

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

How would you describe your presence with clients?

When you sit across from someone who is troubled, are you focused on connecting with them or correcting them?

You’ll be surprised what kind of progress can be made when we let go of the righting reflex, put our advice and handouts to the side, and just start listening to understand the uniquely complex person sitting in the room with us.

Warm regards,


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