BFW Dictionary: Validate, Motivate, Educate, Initiate, Celebrate

Validate, Motivate, Educate, Initiate, Celebrate

There are so many words that are special to Birthing From Within, words that we use in very specific ways that are important and meaningful — but not always entirely self-explanatory. The purpose of the BFW Dictionary posts is to shine a clarifying light on the language used by BFW and its practitioners and to explain how some of these words are so central to our unique approach to the childbearing years.

Listening to a symphony or any favorite piece of music can be a transcendent experience. We can be swept into the ebb and flow of rhythm, melody, harmony, percussion, soon forgetting time and place, or perhaps being drawn into new awareness and heightened senses. It feels like magic. Skillful mentoring has this same magical quality, and the same potential for inspiration and transformation. Musicians and mentors alike tune ourselves to the present moment, responding to what arises, what is called forth. The energy of collaboration and responsiveness is part of what makes mentoring as exciting, creative and dynamic as a live performance.

And yet music and mentoring both also rely on a structure to give shape and grounding to the process. Even though the music comes to life in the bodies and breaths of the performers, with their small adjustments and even improvisations of the moment, before that happens a foundation is mindfully laid. Instruments must be understood and practiced, notes and timings tested and chosen, sheet music written and shared. True mentoring is likewise born utterly of the moment as well as standing well rooted in a thoughtful framework.

One of these frameworks within Birthing From Within is described in the form of five guiding words, around which mentoring conversations and classes can be structured: Validate; Motivate; Educate; Initiate; Celebrate. These five words offer a basic map for guiding clients through learning, self-awareness, and, ultimately, integrated wisdom and change.


verb. To recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of.

— Merriam Webster online

Validation is the starting point of the mentoring relationship. Through curiosity and attuned listening, we begin to understand who the mentee is and where they are starting from. We build rapport and show that we have a genuine interest in them and their point of view. From this place of connection, doors open to learning and growth. Validating doesn’t mean agreeing with someone or buying into their story or beliefs. You can practice connection through validating even with someone who holds very different beliefs to you. In fact, the process of validation should look and feel essentially the same regardless of whether you as the mentor agree or disagree. Validation is about understanding and honoring the client, not finding a way to convince them to share your belief.

We listen deeply and reflect back to the mentee with the awareness that whatever idea, belief, desire, or coping strategy they have comes from their lived experience and almost certainly has an underlying positive intention (like keeping them safe, helping them feel they belong, are worthy or ‘doing the right thing’ and so on). Validation often begins with simple questions like, “What brought you here today?” or “What are you hoping to learn or practice in our time together?” As our clients describe their answers, we listen for what is being said explicitly, as well as what additional needs, motivations and questions might be behind the first spoken answers. We can use phrases like “Ah, that perspective makes sense,” or, “I’m really beginning to understand how important that is to you,” which demonstrate respect and attentive listening while leaving the door open for further exploration and expansion. Skillful validation is an invitation into collaboration and ongoing dialog.


verb. To stimulate (someone’s) interest in or enthusiasm for doing something.

— Oxford dictionaries online

Motivation refers to two things: asking questions to understand what motivates the client to be there with you and what they want to get out of the interaction or relationship; and offering them a framework or invitation that will help them connect to what you are offering and increase their motivation to participate in something that might be new, different, challenging, etc. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship, rather than a model of one person passing on information to a passive recipient. The two-way street of the motivation step cements the reciprocal nature of mentoring, the foundation of which was laid with validation. Our mentees need to feel met in what they came to us for knowledge or support around. This is crucial to staying relevant as a mentor. And we also have knowledge, wisdom and guidance to share that the client might not know they need or know how to ask for. So, the motivation step can be thought of as a type of consent dialog as we invite clients to go with us into new territory. Motivation can be as simple as phrases like, “Have you ever wondered…?” or, “Many clients I work with are curious about… Would you like to explore that?” or, “I’d like to share a process with you that might help you think through this problem. Are you up for that?” Or motivation can be more elaborate, in the form of an explanatory framework that offers a window into how the content or experience might be relevant, such as describing the history and cross-cultural uses of labyrinths as symbols for transformation before teaching how to draw one.


verb. To give (someone) training in or information on a particular field.

— Oxford dictionaries online

Education is the piece where we feed the Gatherer archetype and the rational, logical mind that is hungry for information. Notice that this is the third step – in the very middle of the sequence. There is such temptation for many of us to jump right to this step at the beginning. We have so much to share and always limited time! We want to give our clients the most we can! But without validation and motivation, education can easily fall on deaf ears, feel arbitrary or one-size-fits-all, or we can spend lots of time educating about something we think is important only to discover later on that the client was actually hungry for something completely different. For many professionals, providing information, resources, and tools is the easy, familiar part. It is also the part clients often think they are primarily coming to us for, so it’s important to address it. Many people eventually come away from BFW mentoring feeling that the other pieces – the ones they didn’t know they needed – were actually more impactful, but education is an important part of the process. Here is your chance to share all the wonderful things you know!


verb. To teach someone about an area of knowledge, or to allow someone into a group by a special ceremony.

— Cambridge dictionaries online

Initiation in this context means taking people through some sort of process or experience that helps them anchor and integrate their learning. It is usually something experiential like birth art, storytelling or role playing that they need to participate in to learn. We aren’t handing down information and advice here. We are guiding them through something where they generate their own learning. Though we might help them process their thoughts and feelings, the insights come from them, not from us. Initiation is so powerful because it puts people back in the center of their own experiences. We don’t know exactly what someone will get out of a visualization or art process we lead, but we lead the process knowing they will get something. Through small processes of initiation with a mentor, clients receive an important meta-message about the major initiation that awaits them in birth: that it is not possible for anyone to tell them exactly what their birth will hold, how they will get through it or what exactly they will take away from it; but that they will undergo something important and that they can be trusted to find their way through.


verb. To acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.

— Oxford dictionaries online

Celebration is the sweet and joyful culmination that completes the circle. It is the way that we acknowledge our mentee’s process and their learning. On completion of an important journey, whether simply through a process in class together or after a major insight, transition or accomplishment in life, we all want to feel recognized and have an opportunity to pause and celebrate our growth. In a mentoring setting, celebration can be as simple as sharing an inspirational poem or quote at the close of a class, inviting participants to share a one-word blessing or intention for their next steps, or even just telling a client directly that we see how much they’ve grown. Or sometimes the celebration is more detailed, like doing a footbath, labyrinth walk, or other ritual of completion. The possibilities are endless! The intention is always to honor the courage, learning, inquiry and growth that has taken place with pleasure and gratitude. 

The five steps of Validation, Motivation, Education, Initiation, and Celebration are a mentor’s loyal friends, and can be used as a guide for everything from a single conversation with someone around one topic to structuring an individual process or class to planning and creating full workshop series and beyond. May they serve you well, and may you enjoy the music!

About Maeve Sundstrom

Maeve Sundstrom is a Licensed Midwife and Birthing From Within Facilitator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She finds infinite inspiration in the Art of Mentoring and the many colorful forms it can take. Maeve enjoys reading, listening, writing, storytelling, poetry, art, and being by the ocean, and she is delighted by how these all inform her work in birth. Learn more and get in touch at


  1. Elyse on May 7, 2021 at 8:13 pm

    I learned so much from this article. I especially loved the part about validating people. All in all this process feels deeply honoring and respectful of another.

    • Christine DEsposito on May 25, 2021 at 12:38 pm

      We’re so glad this offered a helpful perspective!

  2. Ana Llorente on May 12, 2021 at 1:08 am

    Maeve, this is a trully useful and inspiring article.

  3. Gretchen on May 12, 2021 at 11:23 am

    This article is beneficial for everyone, not just those going through birth. The first two steps, Validate and Motivate, are very important as you pointed out, yet so easily forgotten. I will try to incorporate those more in my day to day conversations. I believe these tools will impact those that you have the opportunity to mentor. Well done!

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