The Gift of Transitional Space


Like many, I feel like I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster since the pandemic took hold of our lives this past March, feeling strong and capable one moment, and helpless, scared, and overwhelmed the next. 

As a psychologist, I’m so grateful that I can work during this uncertain time of “Covid19 life” and that I’ve been able to conduct therapy virtually from my home. But it also has some limitations.

A zoom therapy lacks the intimacy, body language, and energy that often dwells in an in-person therapy room. 

One of the biggest challenges for me has been the absence of what I call “transitional space.” Pre-Covid, that time used to include when I would drive to work, and the drive back home. I used those moments to process so many of my own thoughts and feelings. It was that space that allowed me to think and gain perspective. I remember a particularly hard morning I had because my kids were fighting. The tension was palatable.

But on my short drive to the office, I was able to breathe, think about what transpired, gain compassion and empathy for my family, and be in the right mindset to continue to see my clients. 

My clients also miss their transitional space. Many have expressed to me how difficult it is to not have that car ride to my office, where they would think about what they wanted to share that day. They are also struggling with not having the drive after a session, where they could decompress and process all that transpired during our therapy. 

Transitional space was originally coined by British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the 1959’s as a term to describe child development: “that space of experiencing, between the inner and outer worlds, and contributed to by both, in which primary creativity exists and can develop.”

While I’m using the term differently, I am still referring to a space between the internal and external worlds where something deeply psychological occurs. 

Since the outbreak of Covid19, without this space to regroup, I find myself more irritable, less able to let go, and at times, overwhelmed by my own thoughts and feelings, unable to sort out and access my true inner world.

It takes so much more energy and self-awareness to be calm and centered.

I’ve tried to take a few minutes after seeing clients and before rejoining my family in the next room to breathe and close my eyes and just be present. But it’s not always possible. Similarly, I’ve suggested to my clients to perhaps take a few minutes to themselves before and after their therapy sessions.

Elul is a time of transitional space, as we get ready to move into a new year. We use this time to reflect how to best use the upcoming year to actualize our full potential. One of my favorite teachings from Rav Riskin about the shofar, especially resonates with me this year.

He said that when you hear the shofar, it is supposed to take us back to that first breath – the breath of G-d breathing into the nostrils of Adam HaRishon.

Our Neshamas were created through G-d’s breath. That means every time we open our mouths, we are bringing godliness into this world. The shofar reminds us that we are not just physical beings and that real teshuva is about returning to your true essence, in which you were created. 

In thinking about this teaching of the shofar, I’m struck by how the shofar has the power of transitional space.

When I hear the sounds of the shofar, it’s truly transformative.

I’m forced to be fully in the present moment confronting my true self, and processing all I have been and all I hope to be. 

This year especially I embrace the transitional space of the month Elul. I bless everyone with the strength to give yourselves the gift of self-reflection and self-actualization to bring you into a new year.

Dr. Dahlia Topolosky is a clinical psychologist in private practice at the Integrative Therapy of Greater Washinton who specializes in the treatment of mood disorders. She is also the Rebbetzin at Kehilat Pardes,The Rock Creek Synagogue in Rockvill, MD, and has a passion for creating spiritual women’s programming.

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