Therapeutic Holding

Relationships of care for those facing illness are inherent to the practice of medicine. Palliative care provides interpersonal space to patients and families that helps them face serious illness and dying.

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We consider therapeutic holding uniquely critical in palliative care but see it as applying in varied forms throughout medicine. Its optimization requires a deep understanding of its nature.

We use theoretical foundations of psychodynamic therapy, which uses the therapeutic relationship as its sole intervention, to identify the key elements of palliative care’s therapeutic holding. We draw together six major concepts to do so. Using a fairly typical case, we illustrate how a palliative care team that included a psychodynamic therapist created therapeutic holding.

This article came as part of a discussion group about psychodynamic cases involving serious illness and evolved in discussion with the rest of the authors. Northwestern’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) exempted this project. This case is anonymized; sociodemographic and specific illustrations are changed. This case exemplifies how psychodynamic theory discerns and describes elements of palliative care’s therapeutic holding.

The case further illuminates the important place of therapeutic holding in effective palliative care and shows how psychodynamic therapy can help. We urge further research on therapeutic holding in palliative care.

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