The Art of Holding Space: An Interview with Heather Plett

In this week's episode, the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Heather Plett, author, facilitator, speaker and founder of The Centre for Holding Space. In 2015 she wrote a blog post about How to Hold Space which has now been viewed by over 10 million people and which launched "holding space" from the seed of an idea to a frequently discussed practice. If you've ever used the term "holding space", practiced holding space for someone else, longed for someone to hold space for you or have no idea what it means to hold space, then you won't want to miss this conversation!

Notes and Mentions

Visit The Centre for Holding Space Visit Heather?s website The blog that started it all Know Yourself, Free Yourself: Self-Exploration as a Path to Liberation and Love

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I?m Serena.

Tina: And I?m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you?re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You?ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: As our loyal listeners know, we have supported parents whose kids struggle in some way for quite a while (8/10 years) and many mistake us for advocates. Although we do advocate for family voice and help at, kind of, city, county and state levels sharing themes of family?s struggles or family experiences, our one to one support really is about sitting with and being with parents at a very basic level. We have always valued being that listening ear and holding space.

Serena: We know the value of this since we always have our parent hats on and hold that space for each other nearly every day. So today we have a guest who has been a major inspiration in our lives and work and we are so excited to have her with us today and so I?m not gonna even lead into that, I?m just gonna say, Heather Plett, welcome to the podcast!

Heather: Thank you. It?s great to be here.

Tina: Yeah, so we would?this is unusual for us but we would like you to introduce yourself and tell us a bit of your story.

Heather: Sure. So first of all I will say I am also a mother of children who have had mental health issues so I fit right in. I am?so, where should I begin? I came out of a background of being a communications professional in the government in non-profit and there was something that was not quite fitting for me as much as I had a great job at the time. And I have since developed my own self employment because I really wanted to find work that had meaning for me and engaged me. So I?ve developed?and in convening years (I think you?ll talk more about that but) I recently have evolved the Centre for Holding Space and even before that I was writing and teaching and developing this work, in particular on holding space. And that?s really become the core of my work and my passion and my love and the way I show up in the world. And so what I do is I teach workshops, I write books and teach workshops all over the world when COVID lets me travel and online whenever I can or I always am teaching some online courses. So that?s what I do and how I show up in the world is really helping people evolve their capacity for holding space.

Tina: Yeah, so I think that leads us nicely into this quote from your website that I think will resonate with our listeners. You say, ?I think it?s true that many of us end up teaching what we most need to learn. Before I learned to hold space, in my late-twenties, I became convinced that it was MY JOB to keep my loved ones alive and happy and emotionally healthy. Forget holding space ? I needed to try to CONTROL what was going on so that everyone was safe and well cared for. That message had already been shaped by watching my mother sacrifice nearly everything for her children and husband,? What advice do you have for listeners out there, I can imagine that resonates with a lot of people, who can very much relate? Yeah.

Heather: Yeah. I think that quote comes right after a story that I shared in the book about having to support my former husband through some pretty severe mental health issues and in that time feeling very much like I needed to be the rescuer, you know, his savior, put the pieces back together. And I?ve since found myself in that similar position with daughters having had mental health issues where it feels, you know, it feels kind of desperate in your body. You feel this sense of oh my gosh, I have to fix this, I have to resolve this. And really what I would say to people is something that has been some really hard learning for me is that if I?m needing to fix the situation then it is usually less about them than about me. It?s usually about my own discomfort, my own fear of the world falling apart, my own need to have things in a certain order and under certain control. It?s been a really tough lesson to learn to let go of other people?s journey, to trust that I can support them, I can show up with them, I can walk alongside them without needing to fix them or control them and learning to give that kind of unconditional positive regard to other people while still giving it to myself. And I think that?s a really important part of this is?and you asked me what advice I would give is do your own work. That?s one of the most critical things and I know you talk about this is just do your own healing work to discover what is it in you that?s being triggered when you?re needing to fix the world for other people? What?s the abandonment trauma you have? What?s the, whatever the fears of lack of control, all of those things. Surface things so that you can be present and learn to self regulate in those moments so you learn to take your hands off the clutching the wheel or trying to control things and just be present. So a lot of it starts with yourself.

Serena: Yeah, so I?m gonna?before we get too in depth about what you?re doing now, I want to make sure that we talk about what it means to hold space. And clearly this is a huge topic. You?ve written an entire book, The Art of Holding Space, which is a fantastic book. But I wonder if you could give like a little brief overview of what we mean when we?.or what you mean when you use that phrase?

Heather: I?yeah. So what does it mean to hold space? To hold space really the way I?ve defined it in my book and long before that in my blog post was that holding space is learning to walk alongside someone without trying to control them, without trying to direct the outcome, without trying to impose our own desires and wishes on them, without projecting our own stories, our own narratives onto them. And learning to do that with grace, with very little judgment or as little judgment as we can muster, with compassion and allowing them their autonomy and allowing them their own choices and their own outcome, really. It?s letting go. It?s a process of, in the Buddhist terminology, it?s a process of being in relationships that are loving and kind but not in that, kind of, attachment, the negative form of attachment, I mean, like the clinging kind of attachment.

Serena: Yeah, so, to delve a little deeper now. As Tina and I mentioned in our pre interview, we are total fan girls and we?ve followed your work over the years. So in 2013 when we started developing our support model of supporting other parents like ourselves, we came across your, what is now a viral blog post from March of 2015 and we will certainly link your blog post in our notes. You write about your experience with palliative care when your mom was dying. You spoke about the nurse who came to help, Ann, who you describe as so much more than a palliative nurse. You say, ?She was a facilitator, coach, and guide. By offering gentle, nonjudgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.? And then you go on to say, ?It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they?re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.? So take us on a journey from this blog post that crashed your website to what you have now created in your Center from Holding Space.

Heather: Right. So that blog post came out about two years after my mom died. It had been two years of really trying to process what happened at my mom?s death bed when my siblings and I gathered around to support my mom in her dying. And all that time I was trying to reflect on what it was that Ann, the palliative care nurse, was offering us. And I came from a background of being a facilitator and coach and so I had some understanding of this idea of holding space but this is what really kind of solidified it for me, understanding what Ann was doing at the bedside of my mom. And so I wrote the blog post. It went viral in such an intense way that I still can hardly imagine it. It?s been seen by more than ten million. I have no idea at this point how many people have seen it. It just seemed to land for people in a way that resonated and I started getting hundreds and thousands of emails and messages on social media from people that resonated with it and were so grateful, largely that I?d given them language for something that was intuitive, that they kind of knew how to do but they didn?t know how to talk about. So more than anything, I don?t think I taught people how to hold space, I gave them language and opened this up for them more. So that, at first, I had so many people coming and I often say that I didn?t find holding space, it found me, like it kind of tapped me on the shoulder and said this is your work. And so at first I was in a bit of resistance. I didn?t want to build my work on this concept because I was doing lots of other things but it just stuck with me. It really was persistent in kind of calling me into it. So I started, finally?it took me a year but I started to develop some courses and programs. First?the very first workshop I did I think I was invited to Australia actually and I live in Canada so that was a long fly for my first teaching on it. And did some in person training and then evolved an online training program which started as a six month program, has since evolved into an eight month program which we call our Holding Space Foundation Program.

And with time that continued to evolve. People really responded well to this training program. And then a book emerged out of it and that was published about a year and a half ago that came out. And simultaneously with the book coming out, I developed a business partnership.

So Krista is my business partner and she had been my assistant supporting me through all of this. I hired her shortly after the blog post went viral because I really needed some support in holding all of what was being asked of me. And then we evolved our relationship into a partnership and I really decided I wanted a collective holding of this because it felt really important in the way that I was evolving this work, that it wasn?t solitary, it wasn?t about me alone and it?s not about me building an empire around this idea but it?s about really modeling how to hold space and I think holding space is a collective act. And so I brought Krista in alongside me and we?re working together. We?ve developed the Centre for Holding Space and really continuing to develop more training programs and working with people, working with different communities doing training. We?re branching out more and more into different communities, trying to land this work in different spaces whether it?s workplaces or churches or all over the world. So it?s been really really gratifying and wonderful work and I?m grateful every day that this work found me and I get to do what just gives my life joy.

Tina: That is much how we feel, I think, about the work that we do. And I just want to circle back to something you said when you said, you gave people language around this and I would say, yes, and, for us it?s like the touchstone, right? So when we get into our mama modes where we want to fix everything and our kids are spinning, it?s like the touchstone that says, OK, here?s the thing. I need to hold space right now. I don?t need to fix anything for anybody. So I love that. And I love that you talk about really working on yourself because I think that is?we are much better people when we can, and we?re much better for ourselves and others, when we can kind of work on ourselves first. So clearly this work feeds you and we know that we try to send messages out to ourselves and others about taking good care of ourselves, kind of fill our own cups. So what things do you do to make sure with all this busy work and traveling everywhere after COVID and before, what do you do to fill your own cup?

Heather: Oh, what do I do? Well I have quite a few different things that I do. I?ve really evolved kind of a personal practices and I just wrote a list of these kinds of practices that I have and some of them are simply reverence practices. I love to just go outside and be in awe of nature and stare at birds. Like even before this interview I was just sitting and looking out my window and watching the birds go by. So just building those kinds of pauses into my day on a regular basis makes a big difference to just be in reverence and gratitude. And I love to read. I?m a voracious reader. So tucking myself into my bed or in the corner of my couch and reading a good book is one of my best supports. And relationships. It?s one of the things when I wrote this list of practices, one of them I said is a relationship practice. Be in good relationships, meaningful relationships where you can just be fully yourself and be present. And that?s one of the most meaningful things that I have found for supporting us and finding peers like you?re doing, exactly what you are doing together and advocating for others to do and support each other.

And I have lots of other things too that I?m? I?ve taken up woodworking. This is one of my play things. I love building things and surprisingly I?ve been building furniture, you know, fairly rudimentary things for my backyard and bookshelves and things like that. It just gives me great pleasure to have my hands busy, to be making something that gives me some sense of joy and completion. So yeah. Finding things that are fun and enjoyable and creative has always been one of my ways of caring for myself.

Serena: Those are great. I love the concept too, of a pause, taking a pause for yourself. Yeah, so I?m aware that you are in the midst of launching a brand new course so we?d love to hear about that and maybe some of the other offerings that you have at the Centre.

Heather: Sure. So, the course that I?m developing right now, and I?m thick in the middle of that right now of course content, it?s called, Know Yourself, Free Yourself, Self-Exploration as a Path to Love and Liberation. And it?s really meant to support? After teaching people for years I?ve been for ten years now, I?ve been doing workshops and training people and supporting people?s personal growth and teaching people how to hold space and I just see again and again and again that people need to give themselves permission to just focus on themselves, to really seek love and liberation, to free themselves of old baggage, old stories they?re telling themselves, some of the beliefs or biases they might have inherited or picked up in our cultural systems. And so really it?s a path through looking at your beliefs, your biases, your lineage, all of those that might have become somewhat burdensome. And appreciating and having gratitude for those that are still valuable and then releasing and liberating yourself so that you can live more free and joyful lives. And the last lesson is on joy so that?s always the direction that we?re going to be taking. So that?s the thing that I?m working on the hardest right now.

There are several other courses on that are stand alone, kind of self-study programs. There?s a writing program there. There?s one called The Spiral Path that?s based on the labyrinth journey. And then our primary work is the Holding Space Foundation Program. Like I said, that?s an eight month program, quite intense program on holding space. We meet every week on Zoom and really go into the material in quite a deep way. And I?m training teachers to develop that, to teach that, so I?m moving a little bit further back and mentoring people into that work because I really want it to grow. And then we also have the certification program which is the next step after that where we?re certifying holding space practitioners. So we?re evolving this kind of path through the work to really deepen people?s understanding of it.

Tina: So you just mentioned your website. Do you have other ways that you connect with people?

Heather: Sure. So the is the place for the work, for the course and things we offer. I also have my own separate website still, is where I do much of my writing. I have a fairly active blog there. And I?ve always been a writer. I?ve always been a person who works through things by storytelling and emerging my own stories and that?s one of the things people respond to in my book is that I share a lot of really personal, authentic stories. And I do that on my blog at And then they can find me on social. Facebook I?m Heather Plett. HeatherPlett/Author is my business page there. I?m on Instagram at Heather Plett. I?m on Twitter but less active there and LinkedIn. All of those places you can find me at Heather Plett.

Tina: Nice.

Serena: Yeah. So, Heather, is there anything we haven?t asked you today that you would like to share with the world?

Heather: I think where I always try to land, especially for people with, who are really trying to support children with mental health issues and that?s a really really huge task and it takes so much out of us. I?ve been there. I?ve walked alongside you. I really just want to encourage people to give themselves grace. I think grace is one of the most beautiful concepts of just forgive yourself for your mistakes, love yourself, give yourself radical self-love on a daily basis, intentionally just being kind to yourself because you?re gonna mess up. You?re gonna make mistakes. There?s no perfect way to do this. There?s no perfect way to hold space and one of the things I talk about in my book is that we often, when we?re triggered, or when we?re particularly under stress, we hijack space instead of hold it and that can come with some shame and mostly I want to tell people to just learn to be in tenderness with yourself. And I have a little free e-book on called, The House That Tenderness Built which is all about learning to be more tender with yourself. And that?s what I really encourage people to find, a practice of tenderness, intentional tenderness.

Tina: I love that. I love that. And we clearly so value your work in who we?re becoming in the world and we?ll continue to follow you. So we cannot thank you enough for taking time out of your busy life to be with us today and again, so grateful for the work that you?re doing.

Heather: Thank you very much for having me.

Tina: And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and please share with others. You will find lots more content on our website You will also find us on all the socials, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and you can connect with us there as well.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!