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What "Holding Space" Means, and Why It's a Critical Part of Psychedelic Therapy

Two women share a friendly hug while looking at a field of flowers

As you move through a psychedelic therapy program or protocol, you may hear someone refer to “holding space.” 

This term could be used by a clinician, your Mindbloom Guide, or someone recounting their own story of a session or experience that they had.

Holding space isn’t a clinical term. However, it is becoming more common as part of psychedelic experiences and psychedelic medicine —and for good reason. Holding space, and being an effective space holder for others, is a powerful catalyst to engender feelings of safety, support, trust, and comfort in someone moving through a powerful or challenging healing experience. 

This article explores the idea of holding space in more detail, highlighting areas that it may come up in, what it looks like, why it’s important, and how you can use this knowledge for yourself, and for others that may be going through significant experiences, whether in psychedelic therapy programs or in life more generally. 

What Holding Space Means

Holding space means you are creating an opening for someone to simply be with themselves and their emotions, and providing support to them as a caring, neutral witness in their process. As a metaphor, it’s symbolic of an internal space that has been made for someone else.

Holding space is an essential part of psychedelic therapy, as individuals may confront many challenging emotions, memories, or experiences while on their journeys. 

Holding space isn’t a process of helping, healing, or assisting anyone directly. A space holder provides additional, but indirect, support for the individual or client. It is simply being a helpful witness, momentarily allowing the individual to let go of their worldly responsibilities. This helps them move deeper into their emotions and challenging states in a safe container for exploration. 

Holding space is like creating a safe bubble around someone. This bubble blocks out distractions, judgements, or other common interruptions in life, so that the individual has the emotional breathing room to check in with themselves and their emotions. 

When someone feels unsafe, hurried, or judged, they won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable, or confront pressing internal challenges. However, this is often where one’s own healing lies: in thoughts that surface fear, neglected emotions, or distant memories. 

Temporarily lifting the weight of the world off someone’s shoulders, so to speak, helps them take necessary steps to address their most pressing needs fully and completely.

Who Can Hold Space During Psychedelic Therapy?

There are several different contexts where holding space may come up throughout a psychedelic therapy experience or program. Holding space is beneficial whenever someone is working with a challenging emotion, or needs time and space to be with themselves. 

This may be directly in a session, working with challenging material. Or it may be during the integration periods, as new ways of behavior are explored, or as challenging emotions/memories are processed and released by the individual.

Your clinician, guide, or facilitator

During the session, or throughout the integration period afterwards, you may find that a clinical provider, guide, or facilitator can help create and hold this space for you. At Mindbloom, this is your Clinician and Guide care team.

From this point of non-judgemental, neutral witnessing, your care team allows you to recount your experience, sit with any challenging emotions that are still present, and provide support if that is helpful for you.

During a session, your guide or facilitator holds space for you by being a supportive presence. Not doing anything in particular, but creating this environment of support, safety, trust, and respect. It is these emotions that create a safe and supportive container, so that you or other clients feel comfortable releasing completely into the experience. 

Your “Peer Treatment Monitor,” or friends and family

Throughout the days and weeks of your psychedelic therapy program and experiences, you may find friends or family members are open to holding space for you. With Mindbloom’s treatment, one person who is there to hold space for you is a Peer Treatment Monitor (PTM), who is required to be present during your Mindbloom sessions. This is often a close friend or family member.

Part of psychedelic therapy is learning to take responsibility and accountability for your own healing journey. This relates to holding space because you can also ask directly for space, attention, and support from those who you trust and value. You might ask someone to sit with you while you journal about your experience. You might request that someone be an ear to listen as you speak your experience out loud. They don’t need to take any action, but having that supportive energy in the space with you is helpful. 

Yourself 

One of the most important and powerful ways holding space may come up for you is the ability for you to hold space for yourself. To allow your emotions, thoughts, and ideas to emerge without serious judgment. Let yourself be human, and move through your healing journey with understanding and self-compassion. 

There are many ways to do this, such as:

  • Honoring how you feel
  • Allowing yourself to rest if you are tired
  • Allowing yourself to cry if you are grieving, and to 
  • Celebrating when you win 

Additionally, practicing self-compassion, letting your healing process unfold as it will, can be a challenging but very freeing part of the healing process.

Giving yourself the same level of love, support, and safety that you would give a loved one is a transformative practice in itself, and a great demonstration of how and why to hold space for yourself. 

Holding Space Helps with the Healing Process

While not the centerpiece of healing or psychedelic therapy, holding space is an invaluable skill to cultivate. It’s a gift that you can receive and give to others throughout your own healing journey, or when assisting with someone else’s. 

Everyone, yourself included, has an innate healing intelligence. When given the right conditions to flourish, it will take charge and help you process, release, and heal from whatever is holding you back. Holding space is powerful because it helps to create favorable conditions for your inner healing intelligence to shine. 

When you are able to shift from a fight or flight response (sympathetic), into the rest, digest, and heal state (parasympathetic), your mind and body have the resources and safety to do what it does best: heal, and return to equilibrium. Holding space creates an environmental context that allows you to shift into this healing state. 

You're Now Prepared to Hold Space!

Holding space is metaphoric, it’s less something that you see or learn about, and more something that you feel and experience. Just like the psychedelic experience is a direct experience, holding space for someone and having space held for you is a direct experience —you’ll know it when you feel it.

Whether it’s holding space for yourself, holding it for someone else, or letting someone hold it for you, this act is a powerful catalyst to create a safe container for deeply powerful and transformative emotional work to be done.

Feeling safe, supported, and seen create a context highly conducive for physical and emotional healing work to take place. Holding space is an essential component of that process. From the care team, to your support network, even down to yourself, receiving support in the form of space holding is a gift you can give yourself and others as you move forward in the world.

Looking for support? Your Mindbloom Care Team is here to help.

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Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Important FDA Safety Information

Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.

Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).

Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:

  • Allergic to ketamine
  • Symptoms of psychosis or mania
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • CHF or other serious heart problem
  • Severe breathing problem
  • History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
  • History of hyperthyroidism
  • Other serious medical illness
  • Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant

Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.

While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.

  • In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
  • Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
  • Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
  • The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.

To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:

  • Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
  • Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
  • Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
  • Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
  • Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
  • Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety

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What "Holding Space" Means, and Why It's a Critical Part of Psychedelic Therapy