doulas, supervision

Supervision for doulas?

As a qualified practising counsellor, it is a requirement that I undertake ongoing supervision to the tune of approximately 1:12 hours of clinical practice. The recommendation is set in place by the professional bodies with which I am affiliated, the British Association forCounselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and Counselling in Scotland (COSCA), to support safe and ethical practice.

Quite right too. I have no doubt that my ability to work as an effective practitioner would be fundamentally lacking without the regular thinking time, insight and emotional and practical support that supervision affords me. How would I manage to keep myself emotionally well while holding space for the pain and suffering of people I support, without a space to download? How could I stay with the unknown-ness of another person’s process in a boundaried way, without experienced support?counselling-supervision-integrative-model-clinical-supervision

Not only has this has made me think about others who work in a supportive role, where perhaps there is no provision in place for supervision, or at least, supervision that is meaningful and therefore useful, but it has also made me reflect on what it means to ‘be supervised’. How is being supervised different from being mentored? And would mandatory supervision be useful to the doula role for example?

As a midwife starting out on my career as a birth worker, my experience of supervision was mixed. From a call to extend my skills and push the boundaries of my clinicial practice to simply getting to the end of a box ticking exercise. “The world’s your oyster go out and grab it” versus “Whatever you do, tow the line and don’t get ahead of yourself.” Either way, and bearing in mind that my supervisors were my superiors in the workplace, the space did not really feel anywhere near safe or potentially creative enough for me to begin to process any issues I might have brought. This said, that was all a long time ago, and maybe there is something to note about my youth and the limitations of my professional experience at that time, that might have affected my ability to utilise supervision to its maximum benefit.

CertitifateinSupervisionStudies406x271As a doula, I joined DoulaUK at the beginning, before the role of doula mentors had been developed. We relied completely on peer support, and as the network grew, those of us who were inspired to, organically assumed the role of the first course leaders and mentors. The now ongoing Doula UK mentoring process was set in place in 2004 and continues as an invaluable internal supportive network for new and developing doulas. I have, however, and to the best of my knowledge like many others who have been there from the outset, been obliged to continue to use peer support. To the great credit of my doula peers, this has nonetheless felt useful and safe enough to help me reflect, process and maintain integrity when dealing with difficult situations. But it has raised my awareness that for experienced doulas in particular, it can be a challenge to find a safe space to emotionally download. Someone to mentor The Mentor as it were.

Traditionally, I always have been vocal in the case against the professionalisation of the doula role, but when it comes to accountable supervision, I tend to agree with others in the field who have been highlighting a need for this service among the doula community for some time. I suppose though, that engendering a culture where anyone who assumes as supportive role in their job is required to access emotional and practical support for their practice, makes sense towards limiting the risk of stigmatisation. And then perhaps supervision becomes more about appreciating and maximising the benefits of a supportive relationship, highlighting the act of taking care of yourself, and less about a sense that you are being watched or feeling ashamed for seeking help because you are struggling to cope.

And taking care of yourself IS essential to being able to work effectively as a doula. So if supervision is required, it seems important that it works in a way that is useful to you. A place to think about a critical incident for example, or to explore how you are managing your business perhaps ? Or just generally time to reflect on how things are going, how well you are resourced and where you might be heading with your practice? Bearing in mind that sessions can be undertaken with anyone who has enough knowledge, skill and experience to be able to respond to the issues you bring in a respectful, thoughtful and progressive way, whether in-house, independently or as peer group members, so long as you feel you are engaged in a trusting relationship.

A mentor with whom you have a good working relationship can be invaluable, yet there may still be times when talking things through with someone who is not party to the internal politics of your workplace could be useful. And this perhaps becomes more relevant and crucial the more experienced you are in your field. Ultimately, if the reflective space does not feel safe and available enough for a degree of processing and certainly, for integration, how useful can it be for the worker?supervision

I do believe that supervision which is led in a vibrant, dynamic way can be an empowering, creative and essentially useful route to supporting best practice, whether as a doula, a midwife, a counsellor or anyone else working ‘in relationship’ with others. Although without my recent experience of counselling supervision, I perhaps might not have felt so sure.

To find out more about supervision sessions for doulas and other birth workers on an independent basis, face to face or online, see

doulas, midwives, networks, parents, publications/reviews

Debra Pascali Bonaro review

“I love Adela’s book.

Gentle Birth Companions captures the heart, passion and sacred path that doulas hold in supporting women and their families through out time. The perfect blend of her-story with science, showing the doulas role and importance today as she helps us re-discover the value of female companionship during childbirth. If you are pregnant, thinking of hiring a doula, becoming a doula or are involved in maternity care today, Adela’s book is essential to help you reconnect the circle of support in childbirth that provides an essential ingredient for a safe, fulfilling birth experience.”

Debra Pascali-Bonaro, Director of the documentary and Co-Author of Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience, DONA International Doula Trainer and Lamaze International Childbirth Educator


courses/workshops, doulas, networks

Birth Stories

For many doulas, our journey begins with our own birth story. Our first experience of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, becoming a parent. Our first understanding of being part of our new family. And our first contact with the maternity care services. 

The quality of physical, emotional and social support that we have received during this time can make a huge impact on our experience of childbirth. And whether it has turned out as we hoped or expected, or whether it has confirmed our worst fears, it is nonetheless so often the trigger that starts us thinking about the idea of supporting other mothers through the same experience.

Listening to other women’s birth stories is bread and butter to doulas therefore. It is the way we learn about and connect to the mothers and fathers we support. It forms the baseline upon which our relationship with our clients during this birth experience balances, it provides waymarkers and flashpoints. And allows for the unpacking of a whole heap of the grief, anger, fear, hurt and disappointment that can sometimes accompany the joys of holding our newborn.

We need to be strong, mindful and steady in order to weather the storm of some birth stories, as well as gentle and yeilding enough for the parents to know we are with them from our hearts. This can be tough, it can resonate with our own birth trauma or postnatal illness, and touch us in ways we never knew was possible. Not only can it connect us back to the circumstances surrounding the birth of our own babies, but also to our personal (unconscious) memories of our own birth.

It’s useful for new doulas to be aware of the powerful and valuable impact that birth stories bring to their learning and preparation I feel. Not only does the novice hear about the physiology of natural birth and what happens when this is disturbed, but also it is an opportunity for her to begin to explore what it might mean to provide birth and postnatal support in practical and emotional terms within a safe setting.

To become humble, to begin to know a little of the amazing art of just being.