The Wounded Healer: A counselor-turned-writer perspective

There is a well-known concept in the field of psychology once forwarded by Carl Jung known as The Wounded Healer. The premise of this idea is that a person who himself or herself had been “wounded” and having learned hard but valuable lessons from the injury is someone who is likely to seek out others suffering from the same damage in order to heal them. Wikipedia’s definition of Jung’s concept is that “the analyst is likely to treat patients because the analyst himself is ‘wounded'” (see http://wikipedia/wiki/wounded_healer). The same Wikipedia definition cited research showing that 73.9% of those who were in the healing field choose the profession because of some previous wounding personally experienced.

While the original idea was based in psychology, other areas of interest have used the same concept in their field. The great Catholic Christian author, Henri J. Nouwen, wrote a book entitled The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, which has been and continues to be referenced and used in ministerial work and pastoral care. Nouwen’s book takes Jung’s concept of a healers who themselves have been hurt, and used it in such a way to demonstrate that those who have been spiritually “dry” or “dead” and then brought back to life are able to help those in need of spiritual renewal or “healing” to revive the spirit. Different background, same concept.

Having worked as an advisor and counselor to many young adults, I have often heard fellow counselors tell me that we can’t expect our counselees to work through their issues if we ourselves have not dealt with our own. I can understand and appreciate what it means to work through our “stuff” because I had to when I was in college as part of the degree requirement. Was it pleasant? No. Was it worth it in the end? Yes. It was and is quite liberating in the end and I am a better advisor having faced and dealt with my “wounds.”

Those following my book series The Last Prophet know that the main character, Dr. Sophia Randall, is herself a wounded healer. Not only is she a wounded healer, but she as the book series main character, she is also the prophetess. In book one and four, we see Sophia working through past and present issues in order to be the therapist she needs to be, and the prophetess she is called to become. In Sophia’s journey, being “wounded” has, is, and continues to be what makes her a great therapist-turned-prophetess. However, if Sophia were real, not all would agree.

I have encountered therapists who have said that some trainees going through session realize that they have too much to work through, or who bury their wounds as part of avoidance, and give up the process rather than continue. I have also heard horror stories of therapists who did the self-work, but then began looking for their past issues in every client they worked with in session to the detriment of both the counselee and the counselor. The range of positive and negative outcomes runs the gamut, but ultimately, research seems to show that in practice, the effectiveness of a wounded healer in therapy or counseling sessions do not make for “enhanced therapeutic outcomes,” according to Miltos Hadjiosef in The Handbook of Professional and Ethical Practices for Psychologists, Counsellors, and Psychotherapists (edited by Rachel Tribe and Jean Morrissey, 2015). Although counselors and therapists are trained to avoid “countertransference,” “transference,” and unethical behaviors such as “dual relationships” with their clients, the reality is it happens. It is up to the individual counselor or therapist to recognize, avoid or cease the behavior or practice, and take ownership and work through the issue they may have created. We are all human and we all make mistakes – even counselors and therapists.

We have all been wounded in some way emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually… but does that mean we cannot be effective in our helping others to heal? Can a “wounded healer” really be effective in their helping another who is wounded? And when is one considered “healed” of their wounds? Please comment in the space provided.

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