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Death Doula Training

Learn from the person who sparked the

end-of-life doula movement

Death is a reality that all of us will eventually face. How we face it will make all the difference between a “good death” and one overshadowed by fear, loneliness, regret, and confusion. 

In our society, death is seen as a medical event instead of the sacred ending of a precious human life. You can restore a deeper meaning to the dying process by becoming an end-of-life doula and providing your services with genuine compassion. This is a role that is beginning to gain recognition and have a positive impact on how people die.

End-of-life doulas or death doulas give non-medical care to dying individuals, their friends, and family. They make this difficult time more manageable by offering emotional and spiritual support, as well as informational guidance. 

A doula’s warm and mindful presence, their insight into the dying process, all help clients achieve clarity and peace of mind, body, and soul as they go through the final phases of dying. A doula also facilitates a structured life review so the dying individual can reflect on the meaning of their life and leave legacy messages for their loved ones.

Answer the call in your heart to become a death doula and make a difference in lives at the end of their journey.

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Death Doula Training Overview

The death doula training utilizes  a number of learning modalities, including lecture, case stories, guided meditation, discussion, and experiential exercises. These methods are designed to help you discover for yourself and through engagement with other trainees what it means to face death with dignity, honesty, and a recognition of its sacredness. You will learn how to listen and communicate well, the basics of assisting with simple physical care, and the symptoms of end of life.


The instructor will teach you how to assist in preparing advanced directives from a doula perspective, how various illnesses impact the dying process, and how to provide support to a dying person and their loved ones by using powerful doula techniques. More importantly, you will be trained to be open and dependable during intense moments, how to practice cultural humility and serve people of different identities.
You will also learn how to move into the career of being a death doula. The way to approach hospice, how to network with professionals, and how to build awareness in your community. 


By the end of the training, you will know how to be a compassionate and effective end-of-life doula serving people with a terminal illness or those who have experienced the sudden death of someone close to them. 


While the role of a death doula is challenging, because you will work with people at an intense and fraught time in their lives, it is also tremendously rewarding. Even if you never serve the dying as a doula the training will give you a greater understanding of the cycle of life and death, and how to live knowing you will die.

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schedule

Schedule

The death doula training utilizes blended learning methods that will make you a well-equipped end-of-life doula that clients and their loved ones can depend on.

 

February/march 2024
Menla Retreat

February 26th  -  March 1st

See registration page for detailed schedule

March/April 2024
Zoom Class

March 15  -  Friday  -  9AM - 3PM

March 23  -  Saturday  -  9AM - 3PM

April 5  -  Friday  -  9AM - 3PM

April 13  -  Saturday  -  9AM - 3PM

April 19  -  Friday  -  9AM - 3PM

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About the Instructor

In 2003, I created the first structured doula program in the United States at a hospice in New York City. Based on the work of birth doulas, it was the spark that ignited the contemporary end-of-life doula movement. Although I was a licensed clinical social worker, and had been working at hospices for a decade, the doula work transformed how I served the dying.  I continued to work as a social worker and administrator in hospice until 2014. At the same time, I also did direct doula work for hundreds of people and their loved ones—which I still do today.  Through the doula programs I created in hospices, and my public teaching that began in 2007, I have taught thousands to do this incredibly meaningful work across the U.S., Canada, and in Singapore.

After leaving my hospice work in 2014 I cofounded and led the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), an organization at the forefront of the current movement. I also wrote the book Caring for the Dying, which was selected by the Library Journal as one of the best healthcare books of 2017. It was later reprinted under the title, Finding Peace at the End of Life and has been published in several countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

 

At the end of 2021 I resigned my position with INELDA to have more personal time and to get active again in direct service to the dying, as well as teaching and mentoring doulas. Teaching and mentoring give me the opportunity to share what I have learned from the dying and those who care for them over my two decades of service as a doula and a hospice social worker.

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FAQ

  • What is an end-of-life doula?
    An end-of-life doula—also referred to as a death doula, death midwife, or death coach—provides compassionate, holistic care to a dying person and their family and friends as they face separately and together the rigors of dying. Doulas provide a non-judgmental presence, opening a space for emotions to be shared, honored, and processed. They guide everyone involved through the signs and symptoms of dying, help them advocate for their wishes and the kind of care they need, as well as create rituals that deepen the experience and return a sense of the sacred. By attending to quality-of-life issues, the dignity of the person dying, simple physical care needs, and the after-death care plans, the end-of-life doula brings greater comfort to the dying process. The dying person benefits from the doulas ability to listen to whatever they need to talk about, the doula’s facility in processing emotions, their ability to respond intuitively to sudden changes in the trajectory of decline, and their assistance in creating legacy messages for the people the dying person loves. Family and friends benefit from the doula’s experience with the dying process, their ability to act as a sounding board for difficult decisions, their knowledge of community resources, and their facility in guiding them through the early time of grief after the death. It is a role that is becoming better known by the public and getting increasing recognition by medical practitioners, hospices, and long-term care professionals. In the years ahead, as the population continues to age at a rapid rate, doulas will play a larger, more central role in how people choose to go through the final journey to the end we must all face. It will become a well-respected career path for someone just starting their work life, for someone looking for their next career, or for a person who wants to continue working after retirement from some other career.
  • What will I learn in the death doula training?
    You will learn the basics of the death doula role from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. What does it mean to become a death doula, what kinds of service can they provide, and what should they not do. You will learn how to mindfully listen and communicate, how different illnesses affect the trajectory of decline, how to provide simple physical care and light restorative touch. You will learn how to offer guided imagery for symptom management, how to help someone open inward and explore emotions. You will also learn how to create an individualized ritual, work on legacy messages for families and friends, how to read the signs and symptoms people exhibit during the dying process and particularly in the last days of life. In addition—and perhaps unique to this training course—you will learn how to work with people who have experienced a sudden death of a friend or family member. This is a new area of work for death doulas. Many of the tools doulas use in working with terminal illness are useful in helping people process an unexpected death. But you will also learn some of the distinctive aspects of this kind of loss and how to deal with them. Perhaps one of the most important parts of the death doula training is learning through deep experiential exercises what it means to be dying—the emotional rollercoaster, exploring what you might need to do and say, perhaps touching fear, anxiety, sadness, or even joy. We doulas find the capacity to serve out of a sense of compassion—our doula hearts—and out of having consciously looked at what it means for us to face our own mortality or the death of someone we love dearly.
  • What new skills will I acquire as learn to become a death doula?
    You will learn many new skills in the death doula training. You will learn how to help a dying person create an advance directive that covers the usual medical considerations while also attending to life issues faced in dying. You will learn how to listen and communicate mindfully, allowing a person to discover their own needs and truths without judging them or trying to fix them. You will learn how to utilize touch, guided imagery, ritual, interactive journaling, engaged life review, and conscious self-care techniques. And beyond these specific tools, you will acquire greater skill in being culturally sensitive, attending to the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals as they face death, and in facilitating the early experience of grief. But remember that to become a death doula you must commit to a lifetime of learning through classes, workshops, new skill development, and most importantly through the experiences of serving the dying.
  • What will this course prepare me to do?
    The death doula training will prepare you to work with dying people and those caring for them as a non-medical support and guide. You may do this work through hospice as a volunteer, as a private practitioner, or by simply assisting those dear to you when they go through the dying process. Very few hospices today hire death doulas to be on staff. But quite a few hospices have volunteer programs that incorporate death doulas or welcome their involvement. Working as a hospice volunteer is a great way to continue your education through real work with dying people. Every case will teach you, and those cases will provide a wonderful opportunity for rewarding service at a critical point in peoples’ lives. In the future, as more hospices hire doulas the ones who have worked with them as volunteers will have a greater opportunity to fill those jobs and follow the doula career path. After completing the death doula training, many students go into private practice on their own, or as a member of a group or collective. As a trained end-of-life doula you can offer your services to your community and the communities nearby. How active you will be as a doula depends on you and your community, but many end-of-life doulas who work hard at building their career find ways to succeed. And there is nothing more fulfilling than serving the dying, whether that is six cases a year or three cases a month.
  • Can I make a full-time living as a death doula?
    For now, not many end-of-life doulas will manage to earn a full-time living in a career of serving the dying. But, you can earn a part-time, supplementary income from doula work. And most end-of-life doulas find the work more rewarding than almost anything else they do in their lives. Doulas often tell me that learning to be a doula and serving the dying has changed how they live in deep and beautiful ways. They know better what really matters to them, how to engage openly with other people, and how to be truly present in their own lives. Over the next number of years, as the population ages, and the death doula role becomes more widely known, the demand for doula services will grow. Then I believe more doulas will be able to establish a solid career and earn a decent living, especially when they combine bedside services with speaking, writing, and teaching.
  • What makes this death doula training the one I should take?
    By taking this online course you will be learning from the person who established the first end-of-life doula program in the U.S. that was dedicated to helping support and guide people through the entire dying process—including the death and the aftermath for family and friends. That program was created in 2003 at a large hospice in New York City. Not only did I train the doulas in that program, but I managed it, mentored the doulas who participated, and actively served as a doula myself. We worked in teams around the clock, so I experienced every aspect of doula work. I have literally accompanied hundreds of people through the dying process and bring all of that experience to the training. I am also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and have worked at a number of hospices in that capacity, and as a manager. So, I understand how hospice works, the nature of palliative care, and how doulas can work collaboratively with hospice. Beyond the years of experience I have at the bedside, from 2003 until 2015 I trained hundreds of doulas in the hospice programs I created and ran. I also taught publicly at the Open Center in New York City and at the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Toronto, Canada. In 2015 I cofounded the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA). Until the end of 2021, when I moved back into independent work, I taught thousands of doulas. Over all this time I have evolved and rewritten the death doula training course a number of times to incorporate new learning from the bedside; new ideas about collaborative, experiential education; insights from the many people I taught, and suggestions about best practices from my engagement with leading figures in the end-of-life field. Now I have rewritten the death doula training again to build in what I believe will help you to become a death doula in the current environment. The course will also prepare you for the future, as this relatively new career path continues to develop and expand.
  • How much does the course cost and how do I pay for it?
    The online training course costs $525, which is among the lowest costs of any death doula training program being offered. You can pay directly through the website by credit card or by sending a check to Henry Fersko-Weiss, 108 Main St., # 403, Warwick, NY 10990. If you choose to send a check, please email me that you want to take the online training course and will be sending a check. If you have difficulty paying the full amount at once, you can pay in installments, as long as you finish paying the full amount at least two weeks prior to the start date of the course. I will work out with you a payment schedule that meets your needs.
  • Do I need a clinical background to take the death doula training?
    No, you don’t. The great majority of people I have taught over the years did not have a clinical background. The doula role is not nursing, social work, chaplaincy, or alternative therapy. It is a blending or merging of understanding that comes from all of these various fields, but you can learn to become a death doula without a clinical background. While the dying process obviously involves an understanding of what happens to a person’s body as a terminal illness progresses—and you will learn that in the training—it is much more about what happens emotionally, psychologically and existentially. It is about the humanness of dying and providing the information that people need to understand the naturalness of this transition. If you do have a clinical background, the death doula training can expand the way you approach your work and career. Many clinicians who have taken the course, including a number of physicians, have told me that the course gave them a deeper perspective on how they worked with patients and some new skills to improve their practice.
  • Are there prerequisites for the course?
    No. The only prerequisite is to come with an open heart and mind. Before the course begins I will ask you to think back over the deaths you have experienced in your life to explore how they have informed your thoughts about death and dying. It can help to read my book: Finding Peace at the End of Life, A Doula’s Guide for Families and Caregivers, published by Red Wheel Weiser, but that isn’t required.
  • Does the death doula training provide certification?
    No. Nor is certification a requirement to become a death doula. There is no industry organization or governmental agency that oversees the end-of-life doula field or provides a doula certificate. And it is unlikely that a certificate will become required until Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurers decide to reimburse doulas. Only now, after almost 50 years of serving women in labor are birth doulas beginning to get reimbursement in a handful of states, and then just through Medicaid. Certification is a confusing subject in the end-of-life doula field because some trainers say people are certified by simply taking their training. I believe certification should require more than just taking a course. I am an advocate for certification for the field—but a real certification that is meaningful. When the day comes—and I hope it comes much sooner than it has for birth doulas—I believe people who have taken my training will be well prepared to satisfy whatever the criteria is for a nationally recognized doula certificate that will allow doulas to get reimbursed by health insurers. Having said all of this, you will receive a certificate of completion at the end of the training. That way you will have a record of your attendance and a document you can show a hospice you hope to work with or a client who wants to be assured you are well trained.
  • How is the death doula training delivered?
    For now the training is delivered virtually online via Zoom. In 2023 and beyond I will offer some death doula training courses in person—providing it is safe to do so—as well as online through Zoom or some other online platform. I have been teaching through Zoom since the beginning of the COVID pandemic and found this virtual platform surprisingly intimate. Even deep experiential exercises work extremely well online in Zoom by utilizing the opportunity for people to work together in breakout rooms. The material in the course is presented through lecture, PowerPoint presentations, case examples, discussions, question periods, journaling assignments between sessions, and most importantly through in-class exercises. The exercises give you the opportunity to explore your thinking about the impermanence of life, experience what it means to face death, and the chance to practice the tools and techniques you will use as a doula throughout your career. Some of the exercises can be intense. To get the most out of them you will need to allow a degree of vulnerability as you consider some deep questions about dying, and as you try out new techniques that may feel unfamiliar or even scary to you at first. It is the best way to learn how to become a death doula. Part of the learning and the work is to become comfortable with the unknown and step right into it. A dying person and those caring for them must do that as well, so experiencing that in the course will prepare you to guide people into the unknown aspects of what it is like to die. Doulas work at perhaps the most critical and intimate juncture in a person’s life. That is why the class exercises are so key to your learning. If you open yourself freely and honestly in the exercises, you will find them the most beneficial aspect of the course.
  • How many people will be attending the course?
    I cap the online class size at 35. I do this to make sure that everyone has ample opportunity to participate actively in the course. I want participants to have time to ask the questions they will come with, or that come up as material is presented and practiced. I also believe that the experience and knowledge of participants is another important avenue of learning in the course. So I encourage conversation and sharing. I also want to make sure that following each exercise participants have time to discuss their experiences and insights. Given how important the exercises are I want people to have time to engage with each other, and me, as we process the exercises together.
  • What is the refund policy?
    You can get a complete refund, minus a $50 processing fee, at any time up to two days before the course starts. The reason for requesting a refund doesn’t matter. However, if it relates to an unexpected conflict with the dates of the course, you can reschedule to a future class rather than requesting a refund, unless you would still prefer a refund. Once the course has begun, if you need to drop out due to an emergency, you will get a prorated refund based on the time you have spent in the class plus the processing fee. If instead of a refund you would like to complete the training at a future time, I can arrange that with you at no extra cost.
  • If I’m grieving a loss should I wait to take the training and how long should I wait?
    This is totally up to you. If you are grieving deeply—and only you will know this—then I would suggest waiting until your grief is less active. There are intense exercises in the course, which can call up a great deal of emotion, particularly if that emotion is just below the surface due to a recent loss of any kind. This caution applies to any event in your life that is causing a great deal of emotion, even if it doesn’t involve a loss. How long to wait is again up to you. I don’t believe in set timeframes for moving through a period of deep emotion. Honestly ask yourself if you are in the right internal space to do deep work. Then listen well to the answer that surfaces before making a final decision.
  • How do I move ahead with a death doula career after the training?
    There are a number of different answers to this question, depending on how you want to fulfill the calling to become a death doula. Some people choose to become a hospice volunteer to get more experience working with dying people and those caring for them. Although you won’t earn any money by doing that, you will get to see how different people face dying and have a chance to practice some of what you learn in the course. Other people may decide to take the leap and go into private practice, serving clients almost immediately after completing the course. There are many decisions to make when starting a private practice, and we will discuss the basics. Even if you don’t want to go into private practice right away, this part of the course is useful because you may decide to go into a private practice later on and make doula work your formal career or a part-time occupation. Some of you may not intend to do doula work for clients. You are taking the course so you can help friends or family members when their time comes to face dying or when there is a sudden, unexpected death. This a generous and compassionate reason for taking the death doula training. We will discuss how this differs from working with outside clients and how to make people in your life aware of your skills in helping people at the end of life or after a sudden loss.
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