What is… a Wounded Healer

The wounded healers from Mental Health @ Home

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is wounded healer.

The concept of wounded healers was first described in the modern field of psychology by Carl Jung, who used it to describe psychoanalysts who had chosen to go into clinical practice because of their own psychological wounds. However, the idea dates back to ancient Greek times.

Historical use

In Greek mythology, the god Chiron was the wisest of the centaurs. He was wounded by an arrow from Heracles that was tipped with blood from the Hydra. Because of the Hydra’s blood, the painful wound would not heal. As he was an immortal god, the wound did not kill him, so he roamed the earth healing others. Chiron was later transformed into a star, and the star Chiron represents the wounded healer in astrology.

Plato described the idea of a wounded healer in medicine; he said that the most skillful physicians are those who have suffered from illness.

The idea of wounded healers also exists across multiple cultural and spiritual contexts, including shamanism.

The Jungian archetype

Jung was a psychiatrist and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. He drew on the anthropological concept of archetypes to describe recurring and universal mental themes and instinctive patterns of behaviour. Some of these he linked to ancient mythology; for example, the Ancient Greek Apollo and Dionysus as representative of the introvert and extrovert archetypes.

Jung associated Chiron with the archetype of the wounded healer, who uses their own woundedness to promote healing and empathetic understanding. This would require that the healer be able to acknowledge their own wounds and have made substantial progress in their own recovery. Wounded healers are able to walk alongside the client/patient rather than acting as their superior, and careful self-disclosure may promote hope for recovery.

Wounded healers in multiple fields

The concept of wounded healers has been expanded to apply not just to psychotherapists but also to other forms of healers, including physicians and nurses. It can help bring professional and patient together to stand beside one another co-create something better.

In a survey of nurses with depression by Caan end colleagues, many participants described their illness as benefiting their nursing practice in various ways, including improved understanding (85%), empathy (78%), and compassion (60%).

Most of the existing literature on mental health clinicians who have a mental illness focused on the power of the wounded healer role, with clinicians identifying that they were more empathetic and effective as a result of their own illness.

Personally, I think the wounded healer role is a highly valuable one. It probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves, as stigma is a very real challenge that keeps many people silent, but many of the benefits for the client will still be there even if wounded healers aren’t disclosing their woundedness to anyone.

Have you ever been treated by a wounded healer that you’ve been aware of?


I’ve interviewed a number of wounded healers on MH@H: Caz | Karoline | Kacha | Marja Bergen | Maria (Emotional Musings) | Meagon | Wrae

The Psychology Corner: Insights into psychology and psychological tests

The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.

Ashley L. Peterson headshot

Ashley L. Peterson


Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.

30 thoughts on “What is… a Wounded Healer”

  1. Very interesting theme and indeed underappreciated. I don’t work in the mental health field anymore, so I don’t know if it qualifies me for the interview. And I got diagnosed after I left the field.

  2. I’d prefer a wounded healer for sure! In the same way I prefer a female gynecologist 🙂

  3. We want a healer who walks with us and isn’t “superior”—wounded or not.

    In a trauma hospital, we had a healer self-disclose her sexual trauma to us. It was too much, too soon for us

    If we ever engage in society again, we would want to contribute to alleviating suffering in some regard. It feels a natural pull. Much respect to all the bodhisattvas out there 💕💕❤️❤️

  4. That makes sense Ashley, the wounded healer. Possibly so many of us go into the caring profession. I’m a medically retired ‘wounded healer’ and was sick before I went into nursing Ashley. I’m happy to be interviewed.

  5. I’ve met one. My former psychiatrist. He was both good, and bad, really.

    He told me a little about the abuse he suffered, drawing a parallel between us. He took care to inquire across all aspects of my functioning, and my inner well being, not just externally how I was doing…even if I tried to rush through the appointment with “I’m fine, just refill medication”. I remember the hope he gave me – I even gave him a card with a poem for that – and the time he so solemnly told me “You matter.” He was patient in listening to my concerns, gave me and anyone 30 minutes – really rare in a system where most people see psychiatrists for just 5 minutes.

    However he also felt people reported “small things as abuse” (?? regular bruising on a child is small?), he also thought there were few “true homosexuals” and that most homosexuality and bisexuality was due to abuse, he even suggested conversion therapy. And he forgot my name! That hurt.

          1. Sadly his view is common! So thrilled the Psychological Society’s 2nd newsletter addressed minority stress AND resilience in LGBTQ+ persons. So RARE and so needed!

  6. Secretum Hortus

    Just to let you know Ashley, I deleted my blog (again) as it is what I do when having a very rough bad time. It’s like destroying me or a part of me. My BPD, anxiety, and self loathing just take over. That’s the third blog I’ve done it to now. I literally cannot keep anything going.
    I tried to resurrect it, and asked wordpress but they have not got back to me.
    So I created another blog, and am keeping it private because I’m so mixed up, and don’t really know what to do, but feel I need somewhere still…a space you know?
    I even stopped following everyone because I keep changing all the while, with my blogs and names and everyone will just get so fed up as I can’t keep consistent. I feel like I should just be on my own now in the blogging world. Then I can’t disappoint or let down anyone.

    Please may I say, Thank you so much though for always supporting me. Appreciate that so much.
    Sending you hugs 💗

    1. You’ve got to to do what works best for you. And if at any point you’d like me to join you on your blog, just send an invite my way. Sending hugs right back at you. ❤️

  7. Excellent piece. I found that my struggle with major depression made me a much better counselor. MDD eventually took away my career, but it has informed my writings and the opportunities I get to share in growth and therapy groups.

  8. I watched part of a documentary where there was a horrendous crime against a boy, never ending abuse till he died. The prosecutor got convictions on a bunch of people including social workers who neglected to follow up on clear signs of serious abuse. The prosecutor seemed so troubled by all of this. He admitted his own experience with physical and verbal abuse as a child, saying that it was of course nothing like what this child had experienced, but that he to some extent understood.

    Would you consider him a wounded healer in this instance? He fought for justice for not only this fallen child, but the community that mourned his death in shock, and the child’s family who cared for him lovingly until his mother and stepdad took charge and killed him within a year.

    1. There isn’t a firm definition of exactly what a wounded healer is, but typically it’s used when people are doing healing work directly with individuals. I haven’t seen the term used in a justice context.

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