Thursday, May 29, 2014

Should I get certified? An honest look at doula certification

Every now and then, I will receive an email from someone who is thinking about becoming a doula. This is usually the first question I get. This is also a very common question on all the doula message boards and facebook doula groups I have perused. 

Should I get certified? 

People are very passionate about their answers to this question. I am going to attempt to answer this question with the hope that I might be able to help someone who is trying to decide whether or not they should be certified. 

Before continuing, I should probably share that I am certified. I completed my training and certification through DONA International, and I finally heard the good news in September 2012 that I could finally put the letters CD(DONA) after my name. 

It felt like a graduation! It was as if the words of my college diplomas echoed through my brain, "You have successfully completed the requirements of DONA International and are entitled to all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto."

Only, I was just as confused as to what those "rights and privileges" were after my DONA certification was approved as to what they meant after I earned my music degrees. Was I a better flutist now that I had these two pieces of paper in my hands? Am I a Master of Music now because this piece of paper says so? Am I now, all of a sudden, more equipped to play in the same symphonies and teach the same students as I have been for the past several years? Am I all of a sudden a better doula because I can put letters after my name? 

No. Not really. 

Want to know something that stinks? I bet there are high school flutists out there that can play better than me. Especially now that I don't really get to practice anymore. However, you know what I can do that they can't? Get a job. One day I might want to teach at a university, and the position might require that one has earned at least a Master of Music degree. Many universities require a doctorate in music. Minimum. 

Sometimes if you are really really good, and have played in famous symphonies and have made a name for yourself, your education doesn't really matter. There have been a few of my friends who never finished school, who have been able to live a life performing in orchestras, musicals, and other shows that most people can only dream of doing. It's extremely rare, though. Most of us have to spend years in school developing our craft. And before I go off on a rant about my two music degrees and how they are not really worth the time, effort, and money I poured into earning them, I'm going to move on to something else. At least, at this point in my life, I can't see how all of that was worth it. Maybe it will all reveal itself one day.

So did the clouds part and a beam of light shine on me and proclaim me Kristi, the Better Now Certified Doula? Did I hear concourses of angels singing the letters CD(DONA)? Maybe for a minute or two as I basked in my accomplishment. Once reality set in, I realized I didn't really feel different. I guess I expected to feel different. Potential clients were like, "Oh, that's nice. Good for you." I suppose I thought business would boom. I suppose I thought I would somehow feel more qualified as a doula. I felt like the same ole me. 

Here's what I feel doula certification has done for me:

It has provided proof that I have met a minimum standard of training and education. I feel like certification is a START. It is the bare minimum training someone needs in order to start serving clients well. Whether or not someone completes the certification paperwork, aspiring doulas need to, at the very least, attend a training and read the material. 

It provided structure for my training and studies, and it gave me a place to start. Because I had absolutely no background in supporting women during pregnancy, birth, or the immediate postpartum period, I needed to attend a doula training. I am the type of person that thrives in a classroom setting, and I needed the structure that pursuing certification offered in order to remain disciplined to finish my work. The promise of having letters behind my name if I completed all the requirements kept me motivated. 

It has given me a sense of accomplishment. I am the type of person that just feels icky and unsettled if I don't finish something that I started. It would irk me if I did all that work to become trained and educated and didn't just go ahead and finish all the other paperwork in order to earn the letters. Some people ask, "Why be certified? It doesn't make you a better doula." My thoughts are, "Why not? I did all that work. Why not just finish?" 

It keeps me motivated. I want to keep my letters, so I will do what I need to do in order to continue my education. I feel like I am more motivated to sign up for continuing education opportunities if there is potential that I can lose something for which I worked so hard. This is my learning style. This is what I need to stay disciplined. 

Here's what I feel doula certification has NOT done for me:

It did not make me a better doula. The parts that made me a better doula (and continue to make me a better doula) were the training, the reading, and attending births. Continuing all of that after receiving my certification makes me a better doula. I become a better doula after every birth I attend, every book I read, and every workshop I attend. I become a better doula by gleaning all the information I can from other doulas. I become a better doula when I pay it forward and teach workshops. I feel like I am a better doula after adding to my skill set and becoming a Birth Boot Camp Instructor. The certification itself did not do those things for me. The work I put into obtaining my certification did those things for me. Some people don't need all of that to motivate themselves to pursue initial training and education and then continue it for as long as they are a doula, but I do. 

It did not bring me more business. I suppose it was naive to think that I would all of a sudden have more business because my name and information were now on the DONA website. I have yet to receive a client from the DONA website. I have received inquiries from people who are thinking about becoming doulas, hence this inspiration for this post, but not from women who are seeking a doula for their upcoming births. Most of my business comes from word of mouth. Some comes from doula match, my website, and from Facebook.

It did not prepare me as much as I thought it would. Maybe I was expecting too much from my training. I feel like I was thrown into the ocean with the instruction, "Now, swim!" I've had a few life preservers thrown my way in the form of a few amazing doula friends who are always there for me. I've had some pieces of driftwood float past me, in the form of additional trainings and workshops, that I have been able to use to build a sizable and comfortable raft. The glue and rope that holds it all together is all the reading and studying I do. Every book I read makes my raft just that much stronger. Sometimes the wind and rain beat against me, and the waters are choppy. Other times, the waters are as smooth as glass. However, my raft is strong, and my life preservers are still waiting there should I ever need them. 

Do I think everyone should get certified? 

Not really. I don't mind what other people do, except in a few cases. 

It bugs me when someone who has no training whatsoever starts calling themselves a doula, behaves in ways that trained doulas would never behave, and makes us all look bad. In other words, trained professional doulas follow what is called a Scope of Practice. There are certain guidelines for doula work. There are certain things we should and should not do, things that are outside of our range of expertise. Do you know what these things are? If not, you should probably take a training. 

Other than that, I am not bothered by someone's method of training, or whether or not they are certified, as long as they are trained in some way and conduct themselves professionally

How does one receive training as a doula? 

There are several options available for anyone wanting to receive training as a doula. 

Live training: Usually these are held over the course of 2-3 days, and participants learn birth support skills in a hands-on environment. Organizations such as DONA International require attendance at a live training taught by an approved doula trainer in order to complete certification. 

Online/distance training: Some programs do not require a live workshop and provide all of their training via distance or online learning. 

Apprenticeship: This type of training allows participants to learn from a more experienced doula, and the requirements and length of training vary. Depending on the skills and experience of the mentor, I feel like an apprenticeship has the potential to be one of the most thorough trainings available. Combined with all of the book work required of other types of programs, this would make for a very comprehensive training. It doesn't matter how long I do this, I will never get so big for my britches that I won't feel like I would benefit from spending lots of time learning from a more experienced doula.

To summarize, I feel like whether or not a doula should become certified depends on his or her learning style and previous experience. There is not a one-size-fits-all doula, just as there is not a one-size-fits-all way for becoming a doula. For me, however, certification works. 

1 comment:

  1. Having a certification has its pros and cons. Being certified suggests that you passed a certain standard that qualifies you to perform or render a specific service, but it can also put a limit on the range of your skill. And not having one doesn’t mean that you don’t have the capability to execute a service and compete with others. The perks of being certified or accredited for something, has a different effect on each individual or firm. Anyway, I’m glad that you took the time to share this with us, Kristi. Good luck with your future endeavors!

    Kent Gregory @ ARMATURE Corporation