Are you curious about death? Do you want to support people throughout their last few days before death? If you answered yes to both, becoming a death doula is something you may want to consider.
Doulas have been around for a while, but have risen in popularity, mostly for non-medical support for women during the birth of a child and postpartum life adjustments.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Consider Before You Become a Death Doula
- Death Doula Training and Education
- Becoming a Death Doula
- FAQs: Death Doula Jobs
But overall, the job of a doula is to help during a large life-changing moment. So it makes sense that a death doula would be someone who can provide emotional and spiritual support for a dying person. Death doulas assist dying people with logistical planning and emotional preparation for death — and are often one of the last few people in the room helping with the transition from life to death.
As more people embrace the death positive movement, the need for death doulas has risen to meet the needs of those looking for guidance at the end of life.
We've put together some basics for those who are interested in becoming a death doula or simply want to know more about the job.
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What to Consider Before You Become a Death Doula
If you plan on pursuing a career as a death doula, you will intimately learn the ups and downs in the process of death. Some of these can include beautiful moments and other ones of intense suffering. Death may not be a positive experience for everyone. Though death doulas do their best to prepare the person for a "good death," each experience will be unique for everyone.
If you are curious about becoming a death doula, here are some things to know:
Emotional and physical demands
Being with someone in their final hours can be fulfilling—and also exhausting. When people are close to death, you may be on-watch for long hours. As we all know, people can die at any moment and sometimes it can be quick or a long, drawn-out process.
Doulas can be working for more than 12 hours, focused on some emotionally intense tasks for their client. A consistent self-care practice can help you avoid burnout and help you keep up with the demands of the job.
Becoming a death doula also requires a sense of emotional security and the ability to know when to set boundaries. Setting boundaries can be hard especially when your job is precisely to guide someone through the most trying time of their life. Seeing people transition from life to death can be jarring, so it is helpful if you can maintain a practice of mindfulness and serenity for both yourself and your client.
Having experience with the death of a loved one or friend is not required but it can be helpful. If you haven't experienced death firsthand, some death education or study is encouraged. No matter how many stories about death you read, it can be very different when you are in the room with a dying person. For this reason, it is important that you have some level of death awareness.
Coming to terms with your own mortality will also help you in this role. Watching someone die can be unsettling if you are not comfortable with it — and may deter you from continuing as a death doula if it is not something you are willfully prepared to handle.
It takes a lot of courage and a heart of compassion to guide someone to their death. You may listen to a dying person share their emotional pain and sadness. They may express regrets, things they feel guilty about, or stuff they are going to miss the most.
Being able to listen with a non-judgmental mind and an open heart is critical. The more kind and gentle the doula is, the safer the dying person will feel.
Post-loss tip: Perhaps your inspiration to become a death doula comes from the experience of taking care of your own loved one during and after death. If you are currently in the process of handling their unfinished business, we have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
Death Doula Training and Education
There are several certifications and licenses educational training programs across the country. Each program is curated based on the practices and beliefs of their training center.
Though death doulas all serve at the end of life, each training program may have a different set of guidelines. To practice as a death doula, training is not needed but it can provide you the necessary tools to be successful.
Who can become a death doula?
Anyone who wishes to serve at the end of life can qualify to be a death doula. This might include caregivers, holistic practitioners, nurses, and other medical professionals.
Some courses will provide continuing education units and can open the course up to other professionals.
Do I have to take an exam?
There is currently no national accredited body overseeing death doula training. Training centers usually have a written and practical exam to receive a certificate.
There are no state boards or license tests for death doulas to complete before starting work.
What are the prerequisites?
Though medical experience is helpful, it is not required to become a death doula. You do not need to have any prior training in medical, mental health, or spiritual fields.
The only prerequisite needed is an open mind and heart. The training program will provide you with the knowledge and tools needed to work as a death doula.
How much does the training cost?
Death doula training programs can range from $750 to $3000+ depending on the program length.
Some of the training programs will have various phases and others can be completed in 2-3 days. Opportunities for scholarships are sometimes offered to offset the program costs.
What will the training program provide?
Each training program is different but they all embody similar practices and principles. You will learn how to offer spiritual, emotional, and physical comfort to someone at the end of their life.
The training will teach you how to present with death and how to listen with compassion. You will also learn how to help someone navigate their logistical end-of-life plans. In some pieces of training, you will learn skills for family grief-work pre and post-death.
Becoming a Death Doula
Death doulas provide a personal and meaningful presence at the end of life. Each day, hospices and medical institutions recognize the immense value of having a death doula. If you are a new death doula, the best way to advocate is through education.
Putting together flyers or infographics makes for compelling marketing material. With patience and persistence, you can build a part-time or full-time job as a death doula.
Who needs a death doula?
A death doula is a great resource for anyone at the end stages of life. This includes anyone who is facing a life-threatening illness or in hospice care. People who are interested in death pre-planning may also seek your service for educational training.
How will I get paid?
Death doulas work as independent contractors and they charge an hourly or flat rate. This role is not currently covered under medicare. Some hospices budget for these services and hire contractors for a set number of hours.
If you are not working through a hospice, you will need to track your hours and invoice clients directly.
Where will I work?
A death doula is a mobile job and you will often see clients in a home, an assisted living facility, or hospital. If you are working alongside a hospice, they may have a hospice house where you will visit with your client.
FAQs: Death Doula Jobs
A death doula is still considered an alternative or holistic service. Because of this, there may still be questions lingering on your mind. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions:
How much does a death doula get paid?
The pay of a death doula will depend upon the agreed-upon amount between you and your client. This is usually presented at an hourly or per day rate. Some doulas may decide to charge a flat fee to assist the person in their dying process.
The hourly rate can range from $25 to over $100 an hour depending on the needs of the client.
Are there any free trainings or scholarships for someone who wants to become a death doula?
Yes, some training centers have scholarship programs. Payment plans are also offered to break up the costs. This can vary based on each training program.
How do you find the best death doula training?
Contacting your local hospice is a great place to start. You can also research doula training programs online.
One of the most well-known is the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA). The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) may also have resources. The National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NELDA) is another great directory and you may consider talking with death doulas currently in practice.
Benefits of Becoming A Death Doula
Working as a death doula is meaningful work. In this role, you will get the honor to spend time with people when they are in a raw and vulnerable state. Even though death isn't always pretty, it is real and beautiful. To "walk someone home" as many call it is a privilege.
Death is a sacred transition and people shouldn't have to be alone in the process. Death doulas deserve to share the mainstream spotlight with birthing doulas. A birthing doula ushers someone into the world and a death doula completes that cycle.
As more generations age, there may be a push to do death differently, and increase the need for death doulas.
If you are feeling the call to become a death doula, now is the time. You can be a part of the movement for education and awareness for death doulas across the globe.
- End of Life Doula Training, International of End of Life Doula Association, www.inelda.org/faq/
- Sacred Passage: End Of Life Doula Certificate, Conscious Dying Institute, www.consciousdyinginstitute.com/sacred-passage-guide-certification
- End of Life Doula Council, National Hospice and Palliative Care Association, www.nhpco.org/about-nhpco/committees-and-councils/end-of-life-doula-council/
- Trainer Directory, National End-of-LIfe Doula Alliance, www.nedalliance.org/trainer-directory.html