Stay up to date

Stay up to date


What is a Death Doula? with Dr. Martha Jo Atkins

Picture of Sofia Health Staff
By Sofia Health Staff on December, 05 2023
What is a Death Doula? with Dr. Martha Jo Atkins

In this episode of Sofia Unfiltered, Riley and Dr. Michelle speak with Dr. Martha Jo Atkins, an end-of-life licensed professional counselor and counselor supervisor (LPC-S), coach, speaker and author

Dr. Martha Jo Atkins' Approach to Grief and End-of-Life

Dr. Martha Jo Atkins, a seasoned professional with over three decades of experience in end-of-life and grief counseling, shares her profound journey and commitment to providing compassionate care. As a psychotherapist, coach, and doula, she extends invaluable support during challenging times. Dr. Atkins is a notable figure, having founded the Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas and served as the executive director of Abode Contemplative Care for the Dying in San Antonio. Author of "Signposts of Dying" and visionary behind Dying School (D School), she is dedicated to broadening our understanding of death and promoting compassionate end-of-life care. Dr. Atkins' impactful TEDx talk, "More to Dying Than Meets the Eye," underscores her commitment to fostering meaningful conversations around this delicate topic. In this podcast episode, she reflects on her experiences, including a poignant moment holding a dying child's hand, shaping her profound understanding of end-of-life care and grief.

What is a Death Doula and What Does a Death Doula Do?

A death doula, also known as an end-of-life doula or death midwife, is a trained and compassionate individual who provides non-medical support to people nearing the end of life and their families. The role of a death doula is diverse and may include:

  • Emotional Support: Death doulas offer a comforting presence and emotional support to individuals facing the end of life, helping them navigate fear, anxiety, and other emotions.

  • Conversations about End of Life: Doulas facilitate open and honest discussions about end-of-life preferences, wishes, and concerns, ensuring that individuals can express their desires for their final moments.

  • Legacy and Meaning-Making: They assist in creating legacies, recording life stories, and engaging in meaningful activities that bring a sense of closure and fulfillment.

  • Family Support: Death doulas provide guidance and support to the family, helping them understand the dying process and cope with grief.

  • Practical Assistance: This may involve coordinating with hospice services, assisting with advance care planning, and ensuring that the individual's wishes are communicated and respected.

  • Comfort Measures: Doulas may use various techniques to provide physical comfort, such as soothing touch, music, or aromatherapy.

  • End-of-Life Education: Death doulas often educate individuals and their families about the dying process, dispelling myths and fostering a more informed and empowered approach.

It's important to note that death doulas do not provide medical care but complement the services offered by hospice and healthcare professionals. Their focus is on the emotional, spiritual, and practical aspects of the end-of-life journey, promoting a more compassionate and personalized experience.

Sofia Health connects you to traditional, integrative, nutritional, holistic, and spiritual healing professionals to help you personalize your healing journey.

Creating Spaces for Open Conversations on Loss

Dr. Martha Jo and Dr. Michelle discuss the significance of creating spaces for open conversations about loss, grief, and end-of-life experiences. They emphasize the value of vulnerability and connection in deepening understanding and compassion within communities. Dr. Atkins shares insights into her Dying School, highlighting how individuals of varying ages and backgrounds come together to explore the complexities of end-of-life planning, grief, and the impact of loss on different stages of life. They touch on the importance of navigating the details of grief and the transformative power of shared vulnerability in fostering meaningful connections.

Stories of Profound Beauty in Dying

In the poignant moments as a death doula, Martha Jo Atkins shares a touching story of a woman's resilience during her final days. Afflicted by illness, she surprised everyone by rallying and expressing joy, exclaiming, "Isn't it beautiful? Can you hear the flowers?" Martha emphasizes the tangible and transformative nature of the dying process, describing the unique language that often accompanies it, offering profound insights into the transitions that occur and the varied ways individuals approach their final moments. She underscores the importance of compassionate witnessing and the spectrum of experiences that can unfold during the dying process, illustrating that every journey is uniquely beautiful.

The Changing Landscape of End-of-Life Support

The increase in the aging population, particularly the baby boomers, has led to a rise in the demand for death doulas. Training programs have emerged to meet this need, although certification and regulation are still evolving. Dr. Martha Jo emphasizes the importance of practical experience, suggesting that individuals seeking a death doula should look for practitioners who have hands-on involvement, preferably beyond their personal circles. The conversation also touches on the potential integration of death doulas into hospice care and the ongoing discussions about the professionalization of the field.

A Guide to Starting Death Discussions

Martha Jo Atkins emphasizes the importance of doing personal work to ease the dying process. She suggests addressing unresolved issues, improving difficult relationships, and having conversations about end-of-life preferences. Martha also recommends practical steps, such as creating a will and appointing a durable power of attorney. She encourages open conversations about death and suggests tools like Death Over Dinner to facilitate discussions. Martha emphasizes the value of connecting with others, taking care of emotional well-being, and incorporating physical activity for a holistic approach to well-being.

More from Sofia Health

Check out the full episode of the Sofia Unfiltered podcast, "A Death Doula's Perspective on End-of-Life Care", available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Whether you prefer a subscription over live classes or want to shop for individual services, classes, or products, we have you covered. We're here to help you meet your wellness goals for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. You can also take advantage of the services offered by one of the providers at the Sofia Marketplace.

Better yet, make a daily dose of wellness part of your routine. Sofia Prime offers both live classes and an extensive on-demand video library. Choose from high-quality offerings in wellness, nutrition, fitness, and meditation. 

Start your two-week trial today and discover the difference that dedication and expert help can make.


Disclaimer: The Sofia Unfiltered Podcast by Sofia Health is for general informational and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional healthcare services, including the giving of medical advice. No doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this podcast or materials linked from this podcast is at the user’s own risk. The content of this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have. For any health concerns, users should seek the assistance of their healthcare professionals.

Be the first to receive exclusive content delivered to your inbox.