[OSList] Holding space - holding a baby

Johannes Terwitte jokerwitte at gmail.com
Thu Mar 6 05:08:26 PST 2014

Dear all,

I have long wondered about the metaphor of "holding space", which I hear
being used pretty frequently in our circles. Then today I stumbled upon the
Wikipidia page on the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and found the
following, which I simply wanted to share with you all:

Part of [the mother's] loving care was [her] attentive holding of her
> child; and as Winnicott (1965) suggested, the therapist recreates a
> 'holding environment', that resembles that of the mother and infant.
> Winnicott described minutely 'the business of picking a baby up...gathering
> her together', and the way that the "mother's technique of holding, of
> bathing, of feeding, everything she did for the baby, added up to the
> child's first idea of the mother'". Winnicott considered that the "child's
> ability to feel the body as the place where the psyche lives could not have
> been developed without a consistent technique of handling", and he
> extrapolated 'the idea of "holding" and of meeting dependence' from the
> mother to the family as a whole, and to the wider world surrounding it. He
> saw as a prerequisite for healthy development "the continuation of reliable
> holding in terms of the ever-widening circle of family and school and
> social life".

Out of his work developed the subsequent belief that "one of the most
> deeply therapeutic factors in an analysis is the extent to which a
> sensitive analyst parallels...the earliest relationship between a
> responsive mother and her infant", a symbolic parallel. Winnicott wrote: "A
> correct and well-timed interpretation in an analytic treatment gives a
> sense of being held physically that is more real...than if a real holding
> or nursing had taken place. Understanding goes deeper".

 Don't we sometimes speak of an Open Space as a nurturing environment?
Don't participants often remark how free and peaceful they felt during the
OS event?  I see some parallels here, and I quite like them.

Speaking as a young father, I see a direct connection between me holding
and carrying my daughters or tidying up after them - and my picking up
coffee cups during an OS. In all cases I am (or try to be) attentive and

I'd be interested to hear if Winnicot's description resonates with anyone
else - or else how you relate to the phrase of "holding space".

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