top of page
  • Writer's pictureRita Lança

Transition Doula: The Concept, the Philosophy, and the Support Services

Providing support during life transitions

The type of support I offer is aimed at people going through major transitions, significant changes that can be experienced at any moment in their lives.

By the concept “transitions” I mean the way we experience changes, significant events, challenges, and periods in our lives that we find disruptive. The main focus is on change, from the point of view of how we are reacting to it and the potential for transformation that change reveals when we open ourselves to experience it consciously, seeking and activating internal and external resources.

We are continuously subject to impermanence. How can we live with it and allow ourselves to go through changes without losing our sense of integrity, of who we are, and of the most sensible way for us to live?

Traditionally, major life transitions, such as the transition from adolescence to adulthood, among others, were often recognised, acknowledged and shared as a community. On one hand, they were viewed progressively, as latent phases between different stages of life, and on the other, they were supported by rituals that aimed to support this process, and they materialised it as a group.

My perspective is, therefore, to support the transitions specific to the deeply idiosyncratic journey of each person, of each family, who feels called to walk this path together because I believe that “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change” (Octavia Butler).

What triggers our change?

In his book How People Change, philosopher Allen Wheelis identifies three types of circumstances that trigger changes in our lives.

He refers to internal changes, intrinsic to development, derived from physiological causes, such as the blossoming of adolescence, with all the hormonal, emotional, and bodily transformations that it entails.

He mentions another type of change triggered by external factors, unusual circumstances in the course of our personal or collective history, such as the example of having lived in a Nazi concentration camp.

And finally, he talks about deliberate internal changes, consciously and intentionally materialized. He states that all of them are marked by uncertainty, but the latter are sought out and acknowledged by us.

As I mentioned in a previous post, about integral health, “we are in permanent gestation of ourselves,” and changes reveal the possibility of redefining ourselves through them. Just as nature is there for us to contemplate, our life is a living system, where a lot of decomposition is happening continuously, and complexity generates in this process.

Change, transformation, and development

“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living” (Virginia Woolf).

When we observe nature, we realise that the key to life is movement and change, constant and creative reconfiguration, in idle non-resistance.

A few years ago, I decided to camp permanently on the land where I lived, to be closer to nature and pay attention to its cycles. I pitched the tent under an oak tree, and those windy Algarve nights blew deeply inside me that firmness and acceptance that trees convey... They do not resist the storms; they remain, communing and inhabiting that reality, dressing according to the season that visits them: embracing and dancing with Autumn, curling up with Winter, perfuming Spring, or ripening with Summer.

Nature shows the extension to which the continuity of life is connected with incessant transformation, how transience is the reverse of blooming, how decomposition is living humus. These natural phenomena are studied by phenology. According to PhaenoNet, phenology refers to the study of the mutations, growth, and development of plants. The etymology of the word phenology derives from the Greek phaino, meaning to make appear, bring to light, make visible, manifest, along with logos meaning study.

What does the suspended phenology of our life show?

The biography of our transitions

What is the biography of our transitions? How do we go through them? What lessons do we collect from them? How do these changes shape us? What do we manifest as a result of the changes we experience? To what do we owe the person we are today?

The maxim signed by the philosopher Ortega y Gasset, “I am myself and my circumstance”, invites us to reflect on how we have lived, how we want to live, to be.

Have we become hostages to our circumstances, or do we rewrite our story by how we reinterpret it? How do I tell the story of the challenges and adventures I have been going through? Do I choose an integrated and peaceful way of creating future memories of who I am?

Why is it difficult to change?

Besides preferring to cling to docile, mouldy habits, socially, we tend to live immersed in narratives marked by unchangeable fabrications of continuity... Our future self is tied to a present self and present desires, in a duly signed contract... A profession and a job for life, a perfect relationship, married and happy forever... And so the show goes on, always punctuated by the desired stability, as if who we are were immune to what we do, what we live through, when in fact, what we desire changes as we grow.

Once again, nature as a metaphor... The lesson of the lobsters.

How do lobsters grow? As they grow, the shell becomes too small for them to live in. Whether they like it or not, they will have to get rid of that shell... It’s a tough process... They will have to hide among rocks until they develop a new shell. This very visual process in this animal’s life is also a challenge in our lives. A lobster changes its shell several times throughout its life. Do we allow ourselves to shed our shell when it gets too small for us? The fears of letting go of the shell, of mourning, of growing, of developing.

Our identity changes with time, and significant changes tend to carry what I call "glimpses of death", as if we were touching the brink of disintegration, of total emptiness, of the loss of what we consider to be our skin, our bones. Uncertainty, the unknown, are arenas we view as risks, and changes often transport them. These small deaths, which we experience throughout our lives, lead us to touching finitude, our life in its nakedness and vulnerability, so real.

Changing is difficult because it involves loss, some kind of renunciation, death. It is necessary to give something up, which may be a way of seeing, a way of being, for something new to find fertile ground to sprout.

I believe that part of our resistance to change is also based on how we experience time, almost as if we had the power to stop the passage of time and the sculptures it shapes, in the beautiful words of Marguerite Yourcenar.

The fullness of being alive is experiencing finitude. Living in the impasse of not wanting to end profoundly touches our existential relationship with death, with life as cyclicality.

My Support Services

The potential to change and the freedom to choose how to deal with circumstances - whatever they may be - is within us.

Changing may involve many ingredients, different for each of us, varying with each new transition… A good few doses of self-questioning, courage, plasticity, creativity, willpower, overcoming ourselves, faith (in ourselves, in the circumstances that life brings and/or in a transcendent dimension), hope… As the poet Daniel Faria wrote: “Whatever comes, / It will be good. / That’s all.”

I believe that the way we face changes is intimately connected to our inner landscape, to our spiritual life, and that the more aware we are of this landscape and the resources it brings about, the better prepared we are for the transitions we will have to face.

The type of support I offer is tailored to the person, to the family, at their own pace, and based on what they are experiencing, the challenges they face, the needs they experience.

I accompany these life changes - the small deaths throughout life - through the quality of presence. People need to be embraced, heard, witnessed, to express and manifest what needs to be manifested.

My focus is on change. I contribute toward it being experienced with greater awareness and lightness.

I consider that our development is a continuous process throughout life and that the fears and worries that these processes of change tend to bring out carry great potential for transformation. Everything in life is an opportunity to grow. But it takes courage to be happy, to let go in order to live better, with more lightness, to choose how to live until we die.

In this vein, I focus on the spiritual and integral development of the person, from a perspective of reconnection, of seeking meaning in the face of the changes experienced, the importance of rituals, and the proposal of being present in reality, focused on the present, with concrete, everyday strategies to navigate these experiences.

As Tempest Williams wrote, the tangible experiences that life brings about translates into this duality of:

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars."

In addition to an individual approach, I also provide family sessions as well as group sessions (with specific themes, with both an informative and experiential aspect).

Regarding my support services, I have covered various phases and circumstances, depending on personal journeys, which include: young people transitioning between adolescence and adulthood; couples with young children; women challenged by the work-life balance; middle-aged people in their new roles as caregivers for elderly parents; families in contexts of dementia; oncological disease; relationship separations; pregnancy loss; end of life; career changes; moving far from home, animal loss, among others.

Brumas Durienses. Photo by Cristiana Oliveira
Brumas Durienses. Photo by Cristiana Oliveira

In this post, I want to extend a special thanks to Cristiana Oliveira, for providing the photo Brumas Durienses.

This beautiful photo mirrors dynamics that I glimpse in the transitions I accompany.

In our processes of transformation and metamorphosis, dimensions are clarified, new contours are redrawn. In the inner journeys we undertake, like in Ingmar Bergman's films, we are troubled by not seeing clearly at first glance, the need we have for visibility, as Exupéry said, some dimensions are only visible to the heart’s eyes.

This image carries in its haziness that touch of uncertainty, a feeling of crossing fogs, penumbras, marked by lack of clarity or blurred vision. It reminds me of the inner journey punctuated by the great Branquinho da Fonseca, in his work Rio Turvo (“Blurry River”). Between reality and the oneiric, in the swamps where lotus flowers take shape. Sometimes it seems like we live in a parallel universe, but something captivates us in that glimpse of mystery, which hides before what is unknown but hospitable.

This photo also speaks to me of our ability to weave bridges between various layers of the reality we live in, as if reality reveals itself to us as our eyes become accustomed to other colours and textures… I remember when a Sociology teacher said that Eskimos can distinguish more than twenty different shades of white… For me, this observation speaks to our ability to delve into deeper contours of reality, beginning with vision… And this path of broadening our chromatic spectrum is profoundly spiritual, undulated by the fluctuations of life.


bottom of page