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 went into clinical practice because of their own psychological wounds. However, the idea dates back to ancient Greek times.
In Greek mythology, the god Chiron was the wisest of the centaurs. He was wounded by an arrow from Heracles with tipped with blood from the Hydra, and 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.
The idea of wounded healers also exists across multiple cultural and spiritual contexts, including shamanism.
The Jungian archetype
Jung’s wounded healer archetype uses their own woundedness to promote healing and empathetic understanding. This would require that the healer be able to acknowledge their own woundedness 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 other forms of healers, including physicians and nurses. In a survey of nurses with depression by Caan et al., many participants described their illness as benefiting their nursing practice in various ways, including improved understanding (85%), empathy (78%), and compassion (60%).
A paper in the journal Mental Health and Social Inclusion found that most of the existing literature on mental health clinicians who have a mental illness focused on 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?
Wounded healer interview series
Because I’d like to be able to share the stories of wounded healers, I’m going to be starting an interview series featuring people with mental illness or other significant mental health challenges who are in mental health professional roles or some other helping role that supports people’s mental wellbeing (e.g. coaches).
If you’re a wounded healer, either current, retired, or student, and you’re interested in doing an interview, email me at mentalhealthathome (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know what makes you a wounded healer, and I’ll send you the interview questions.
You can find the rest of my What Is series here.
- Benziman, G., Kannai, R., & Ahmad, A. (2011). The wounded healer as cultural archetype. Comparative Literature and Culture, 14(1), article 11.
- Caan, W., Morris, L., Santa Maria, S., & Brandon, C. (2000). Wounded healers. Nursing Standard, 15(2), 22-23.
- Conchar, C., & Repper, J. (2014). ‘Walking wounded or wounded healer?’ Does personal experience of mental health problems help or hinder mental health practice? A review of the literature. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 18(1), 35-44.
- Wikipedia: Wounded healer
- Zerubavel, N., & Wright, M.O. (2012). The dilemma of the wounded healer. Psychotherapy, 49(4), 482-491.